Shropshire Star

Shropshire Council finances ‘in tatters’ says opposition leader after £8.5m overspend

Shropshire Council’s £8.5 million overspend last year is a result of “years of failure” to balance the books, the leader of the authority’s largest opposition group has said.

Councillor Roger Evans

Councillor Roger Evans has delivered a scathing assessment of the council’s 2022/23 end of year financial report, which revealed this week that general reserves had been depleted to just £7.1m – less than half the recommended minimum level.

The report, published ahead of a cabinet meeting next Wednesday, said problems seen last year were addressed in the 2023/24 budget, which seeks to make £51m in savings by overhauling how all services are delivered.

But it warned the current low level of reserves meant there was “no room for under-delivery”.

The Liberal Democrat leader said he had serious doubts that the council would be able to turn things around so drastically, despite the help of consultants drafted in at a cost of £1m per year over the next three years to lead the shake-up.

Commenting on the report, which will go before cabinet members next week, Councillor Evans said: “It shows and highlights my worst fears for Shropshire.

“After 14 years of the Conservatives being in charge, the finances for Shropshire Council are in tatters.”

The report said over £6.5m out of planning savings of £21.2m last year were not achieved.

Councillor Evans said: “There has been a consistent failure to make the savings they said they would make. Nearly one third of the savings were yet again not made.

“Many residents are complaining that services are being reduced, cut, but the budget of just under £225m was overspent by a massive £8.49m.

“This follows years of failure to invest in projects which will generate income and help meet the cost of providing the services that many residents want and need.”

Councillor Evans said he had “grave concerns” over the 23/24 budget, which his group voted against when it was put to members earlier this year.

He said: “The budget approved by the Conservative cabinet is for cuts of over £50m to be made. This means cuts of just under £1m per week are needed.

“What and where these are have not been made public and questions from opposition members have not been answered.

“We are now eight weeks into this financial year and yet still no details of how these savings are to be made have been published.”

The 22/23 outturn report will be presented at a meeting next week, when Councillor Evans and other group leaders will have the opportunity to question the cabinet over its contents.

Announcing the report’s publication, Councillor Gwilym Butler, portfolio holder for resources, said it showed the council was “moving in the right direction”, and that without the high inflation rates seen during the last financial year the council would have remained within its budget.

He added: “The overall situation remains extremely challenging, and we must press on and reduce our spending by £51m this year alone, the most this organisation has ever achieved.

“However the foundations are now there for us to once and for all tackle the structural budget gap that has affected Shropshire Council for many years.”