Two councils which have combined ‘usable reserves’ of £58.37 million have outlined savings to help meet their £2.96 million budget gaps for the next financial year.
St Edmundsbury Borough Council increased its usable revenue and capital reserves from £31.1 million in April 2014 to £31.9 million as of March 31, 2015.
Meanwhile, Forest Heath District Council boosted its usable reserves from £25.6 to £26.4 million over the same period, according to reports presented to their performance and audit scrutiny committees this week.
However, council bosses say the reserves cannot be used to ‘simply plug’ their budget gaps caused by a drop in Central Government funding.
St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath project a £1.9 million and £1.06 million gap respectively in 2016/17. In papers to the committees this week, they outlined some savings which include each service area reducing their supplies and services budgets by about five per cent to save £209,000 at St Edmundsbury and £52,000 at Forest Heath.
They will look at streamlining the way they do certain things to ‘release staff capacity’ which would save £163,000 at St Edmundsbury and £88,000 at Forest Heath.
The councils have more shared service changes to make and as a result would not have to fill vacant posts – saving £147,000 at St Edmundsbury and £47,000 at Forest Heath. When asked about the potential for redundancies as part of the savings, a council spokesman said they ‘would always be the last option’.
Before the committees met this week, St Edmundsbury borough councillor Julia Wakelam said that while ‘prudence management requires sensible reserves’, the council should be looking at the reserves a bit more.
She said this included spending the New Homes Bonus from the Government to build more council houses.
A council spokesman said that if they do use the reserves to address budget pressures they do so ‘through investing to earn or investing to save – rather than simply plugging a budget gap which is unsustainable’. He said: “One example of how we used reserves to invest to save is for the costs of switching to shared services - which is delivering year-on- year savings for West Suffolk Councils in excess of £4m.”
He added that much of the reserves including money from the New Homes Bonus are earmarked for specific purposes across the medium term. Capital reserves are allocated to capital projects and cannot be used to support the council’s day-to-day services.