Leeds City Council in £8m battle to get books balanced

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Council bosses in Leeds are locked in a race against time to balance their books before the end of the financial year.

Government funding cuts mean Leeds City Council is aiming to reduce its spending by more than £47m over the course of 2014-15.

But although the council is roughly on track to hit that overall target, it has emerged it is facing a projected overspend of £8.6m in a small number of areas.

Council officials say they have put in place a number of measures – including a recruitment freeze – to drive down expenditure with the aim of getting things back on an even keel by the end of the financial year in March.

They also say they could in theory offset a remaining overspend at that point by dipping into their funding reserves.

However, the authority’s chief executive, Tom Riordan, last week warned a meeting of senior councillors that reserves “are not at a high level”.

Yesterday the council said that, as of April 1 this year, its general reserves stood at £26m.

A council report says the projected overspend is partly down to demand for adult and children social care services.

Income from a central government bonus scheme for increasing housing provision has also been lower than expected.

Asked about the possible overspend, council leader Coun Keith Wakefield told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Significant savings have been and will continue to be made in the face of unprecedented budget cuts.

“With prudent financial management and putting a stop to some areas of spending, we can reduce the projected overspend.

“It’s imperative that we do, otherwise we’ll find ourselves in an even more difficult financial position in years to come.

“We’re now in a position that no-one in local government wants to be in – having to consider unpalatable decisions to cope with cuts in our funding from government.”

Steps being taken to try to reduce the overspend include a freeze on external recruitment, overtime and new appointments of agency staff.

A general embargo has also been imposed on building maintenance expenditure, except in cases where work is needed for health and safety reasons.

The authority says the push to tackle the overspend will not lead to any previously-unannounced job losses.

Leeds has seen nearly £100m of Government funding slashed in recent years

A two per cent rise in council tax bills for 2014-15 was approved in February as part of the authority’s attempts to deal with the impact of the cuts.

Housing rent and service charge rises of six per cent were also approved.

Cultural events such as Opera in the Park and Party in the Park have been cancelled as a result of the squeeze on spending.

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