We requested a review of Durham County Council reserves and at least £64.481m cash has been found not allocated to anything according to next weeks Cabinet papers. We believe it is even more.
I had asked for the review after reserves at the North East’s largest authority rocketed above £200m. The latest cabinet report for next week’s meeting shows an expected increase in reserves to £220m – an increase predicted by Liberal Democrat councillors back in March of this year.
The Authority’s Cabinet will approve transferring the surplus money into a £30m delivery reserve to help combat government cuts. A further £34m will go towards plans to build a new County Hall.
Councillor Amanda Hopgood said of this “We have consistently said the Council had more money available than it admitted. We have been proven right. The council now have £220m reserves and have had to admit that tens of millions were available all along.”
I believe that millions of pounds more could be made available if the Council got its priorities right.
The council has still not made many of the sensible savings we have suggested. It still has six communications departments. It still spends a fortune on County News – its publicity magazine. It still has more directors than it needs.
I believes that Durham’s unitary authority is its own worst enemy. By failing to make these sensible savings, and holding huge amounts in reserve, they are giving ammunition to the Tory cuts.
The government is going to turn around and say the public sector still has piles of money. Look at Durham they can afford to build a new Council Palace and have piles of cash.
On the ground of course, local residents know that so much more could be done to improve County Durham. They also know that Labour politicians are ignoring their views. Poor quality roads and footpaths, leaking schools and the closing of the DLI museum without any consultation are prime examples.”
We believe that in addition to the reserves hike the council has further over estimated various elements of its budget including inflation (over 10 times the national rate), debt costs (no increase so far this year) and energy inflation (falling not rising). All this suggests reserves could hit a quarter of billion pounds by the end of the year.