Bradford Council is now predicting it will have underspent by £5.7 million on its budget for the last financial year, leading to criticism from those opposed to the controversial closure of libraries and swimming pools.
The latest figures which show a forecast for the whole of the 2011/12 budget, include £4.5m of one-off amounts announced since the beginning of the year.
But if this figure is discounted it still leaves the Council with a vastly improved picture on the £0.8m overspend predicted in January.
Conservative group leader Councillor Glen Miller criticised the level of cuts to front line services, some of which he now believes could have been saved.
“It is clear that the front line services which were targeted, such as libraries, swimming pools and some increases in charges, could well have been averted. I am concerned at how the Council’s financial position has repeatedly changed dramatically away from projections throughout the year. But on the positive side, at least they have changed for the better. I am glad that Council officers have risen to the Secretary of State’s challenge and I hope that the Council uses its good fortune to ensure that the savings needed in the coming couple of years are achieved without damaging the front line services.”
Rhodesway and Manningham pools were closed last summer in an effort to save the Council £250,000 a year. And funding was also cut to the district’s five most under-used libraries, including Addingham, which has since gone on to re-open as a community library run by volunteers.
Chairman of the trustees Adrian Naylor, and independent councillor, said that any surplus should be used to help vulnerable groups in the district and organisations that help provide services for those groups, such as libraries and leisure centres.
Deep funding cuts announced last year led to £44m needing to be stripped from the Council’s operating budget. Individual departments were asked to cut £22.6m on top of a £21.4m efficiency drive, Changing Our Council.
After the first quarter an overspend of £9.4m was projected but this reduced to £7.5m as the half-year figures were released. Last quarter a massive £6.7m reduction in the forecast overspend left the authority with just £800,000 needed to balance the books. Now that figure has improved to the extent that an underspend of £5.7m is predicted.
The £4.5m of extra cash includes £2m through working with the Primary Care Trust to manage a number of health-related cost pressures, £1.5m of Government funding for investment in social care services, the £0.5m PCT contribution to continuing health care funding, and a £0.5m dividend for bulk purchases and economies-of-scale buys with other councils.
Councillor Ian Greenwood, leader of the Council, said he was pleased to see finance chiefs were forecasting a surplus after a lot of hard work all year.
He said: “That has been done on the back of some very strict financial decisions, including a freeze on vacancies and controls on expenditure.”
Asked whether they had cut too far, Coun Greenwood said: “There is at least £30 million of savings which will need to be made in the next two years. So we are ahead of our schedule but there is still a long way to go.
“It’s a good thing we are expecting this surplus but it will be hard work as we still have a lot more savings to find in accordance with the Government’s massive cuts to us.”