County ‘can’t’ balance its books - councillor

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Norfolk County Council cannot balance its books, just weeks before it is due to set its budget, one of its members has warned.

Officials have admitted the authority is facing a £24 million black hole in its finances over the next three years, even before its powers to raise council tax are fully implemented.

But its leader yesterday insisted members would have a balanced budget plan presented to them and claimed he was sorting the “mess” left by his predecessors.

The council is due to finalise its budget for the forthcoming financial year at a meeting on February 20.

But, when asked what that was expected to look like, Swaffham representative Paul Smyth told Wednesday’s town council meeting it was still “too early to say”.

Mr Smyth, a UKIP councillor, said there was still a financial “black hole” between the amount of money the council needs to fund services and what it actually has.

He added: “We can’t even, at the moment, do legally what we’ve got to do and have a balanced budget.”

But the council’s leader, Conservative Cliff Jordan, yesterday dismissed Mr Smyth’s comment as “mischievous”.

He said: “This year, we are definitely putting everything back on terra firma.

“It’s been a nightmare trying to sort out all the mess they created in the last three years.”

He claimed the authority had only been able to balance its budget in recent years by drawing money from its reserves to plug the gaps when it was under the control of the so-called “rainbow alliance” of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP.

He also accused Mr Smyth of seeking to reverse cuts to the county’s fire service provision that his own side had helped to introduce.

A meeting of the county council’s main policy and resources committee before Christmas was told that officials were forecasting a shortfall of just over £24 millionin its finances over the next three years.

Service committees were also encouraged to bring savings that had been identified for 2018-19 forward by a year, so the authority could balance its budget for the coming year.

The assessment also assumed that council tax would be raised by 1.8 per cent to cover inflation, plus a further two per cent to fund adult social care.

But, earlier this month, the Government announced councils would be able to raise the tax further this year to help fund that sector.