County council logs £13.1m underspend

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A LEADING councillor has rejected calls to use a £13.1 million budget underspend to reinstate axed services.

Cllr Jane Storey, deputy leader of Suffolk County Council, said the extra money would be kept by the authority’s directorates to spend on other work.

It follows demands by the council’s Liberal Democrats to use the surplus to restore ‘socially valuable services’ such as the young people’s eXplore discount travel card and scrapped bus routes.

Cllr David Wood, leader of the Lib Dems, said: “We’ve seen this administration cut more and more over the last few years and this time they’ve obviously taken it too far.”

The underspend follows reductions in employee expenses and restructuring across departments as the authority shaved £42.5 million from its budget.

The largest underspend was £4.2 million by the Adult and Community Services as a result of staff transferring from the council to social enterprises, a hold on vacancies in the run-up to divestment and ‘strict budget management’ on care purchasing.

The council’s coporate budgets were underspent by £200,000, which largely relates to councillors’ locality budgets – money set aside to be spent on community projects in their divisions as requested by local organisations and groups.

The extra funds will be returned to councillors to be spent in 2012/13.

Cllr Storey said: “The directorates will essentially keep their underspends. The ones who have got significant underspends are most likely the ones who will have pressures in the years to come. There’s no point trying to take it off them now, they might need to use it for all sorts of things in the future.”

When asked about the Lib Dems’ demands, she said the council was looking at a replacement for the eXplore card and the bus routes that were no longer subsidised were unsustainable.

Cllr Storey added: “Some of the things they’ve suggested, it’s going back and we need to go forward and look at different ways of delivering.”