Luton council planning cutbacks to balance the books

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More progress reports on Luton Borough Council’s spending targets are being called for to help avoid a budget deficit for the second year running.

Current financial monitoring by the local authority reveals a £9.6m overspend so far this financial year.

“It will be a challenge for the council to bring that back in,” a scrutiny finance review group meeting heard.

Stationery cutbacks, work on staff sickness and reducing homelessness are among the measures being targeted to help balance the books, according to the council’s chief accountant Scott Walker.

“There are serious measures going on to tackle this overspend,” he said. “There’s a significant amount of work being done to bridge the gap. The council is confident we can achieve this.”

A progress report on the council’s spending this financial year was reported to Wednesday’s meeting

Liberal Democrat group leader David Franks said: “We’re used to seeing projections at this stage showing a fairly large overspend.

“And we’re used to seeing that come down as the year progresses and solutions are found to problems.

“That didn’t happen last year when we ended up with a massive overspend, which was massaged using contingency funds to what was roughly budgeted.

“Do you seriously feel that these figures will come down. or will be in the same place as last year?” he asked.

But Mr Walker referred to a couple of exceptional issues which contributed to the difficulties last year.

“Savings have been identified in staffing levels,” he said.

The £9.6m deficit is a result of overspends in several different areas of council business.

Some financial pressures from last year have carried over into 2018/19, he added.

Liberal Democrat Wigmore Cllr Alan Skepelhorn suggested “more regular reports back on particular areas of concern” so they could be closely monitored.

Labour Northwell Cllr Roy Davis said that would result in “getting figures for the sake of it”.

But Cllr Franks replied that information on the areas of overspend could be included in the quarterly report to the board, “with more detail on the problem areas”.