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Cambridgeshire County Council remains in ‘difficult financial position’ despite underspend

Cambridgeshire County Council remains in a “very difficult financial position” despite an underspend of £6.3m last year.

Shire Hall, Cambridgeshire County Council
Shire Hall, Cambridgeshire County Council

Council leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham) said there is a £22m unfunded budget gap forecast for the coming year.

“We will need to make very difficult financial decisions in the autumn,” she said.

Cllr Nethsingha added that the new administration’s “quite ambitious plans for improving things in the county” will be “quite challenging” to achieve “because the financial legacy that the new administration has taken over is in no way easy”.

The council said there was a £17.3m overspend due to the pandemic, but that it was “more than offset” by lost sales and charges compensation, as well as underspends generated by Covid.

The overall £6.3m underspend amounted to around 1.5 per cent of its budget for the year 2020/21.

Tom Kelly, director of resources, said: “The full extent of the pressures from the pandemic have not yet materialised.”

But added carry-forwards “do provide some short-term flexibility”.

Cllr Nethsingha said the underspend “is a legacy of the Covid money, and that money will disappear quite quickly in Covid needs that will undoubtedly come forward in the coming year”.

She said: “There is no question at all that this council is in a difficult financial position, and that it is going to be a very very challenging budget round. It is enormously disappointing that the previous administration chose to make cuts and claim that they would be able to provide income from investments that haven’t been forthcoming and that therefore the council is £20 million less well off than it would have been had the council chosen other paths to make its income go further.

“So we are in a very difficult financial position, we will need to make very difficult financial decisions in the Autumn, but we will be working on that over the summer and hope that it will be possible to come forward with a budget that does deliver on all of those exciting plans that we have for the future.”

Conservative councillor Josh Schumann said: “That £6.3 million is not just good fortune, it’s as a result that we managed the budget pressures the best way we could in incredible trying times and have now found ourselves in a position that we are fortunate enough not to have to dip further into our reserves.”

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