Leeds: Council digs into reserves to balance budget

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By Don Mort, local democracy reporter

The council is expecting to balance its budget after digging into cash reserves and receiving a multi-million pound refund on transport spending.

Leeds City Council was required to make £58.6m in savings by the end of 2023/24 and announced job losses, building closures and new parking charges.

In February, the authority reported a £36.3m overspend as it struggled with rising costs. But it now expects to have reached a break-even position on its  general fund in month 11 of the financial year.

The council’s latest financial report said £14.7m would be used from the Merrion House reserve.

A spokesperson said: “The Merrion House earmarked reserve was established to fund future unforeseen budget pressures and complements the council’s Strategic Contingency Reserve, which was established for a similar purpose.

“It is therefore an appropriate use of the Merrion House Reserve to fund the 2023/24 projected overspend.

“The current balance on the Merrion House Reserve is £22.3m and after the estimated use of £14.7m in 2023/24, this will leave a balance of  £7.6m for budget pressures which may materialise in future years.”

The council also benefited from a £17.7m refund in unspent transport funding from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, agreed in October.

The report said that while the overall situation had improved, there was still a £12m shortfall in the required savings, mainly due to rising costs for children’s social care.

Freezes on non-essential spending, recruitment, agency and overtime spend remained in place.

The report said: “Any adverse variation to a balanced budget position at the year-end will require further savings to be identified for 2024/25.”

Councils must balance their annual budgets to avoid having to issue a section 114 notice, effectively declaring themselves bankrupt.

The report added: “This current and future financial climate for local government represents a significant risk to Leeds City Council’s priorities and ambitions.”

Decision: Leeds Civic Hall.

Funding bid for specialist therapy team

The future of a specialist therapy service for troubled families remains undecided as the council awaits the outcome of a funding bid.

The council planned to axe its Multi-Systemic Therapy Child Abuse and Neglect (MST-CAN) team as part of multi-million pound budget cuts.

The service provides intensive therapy over six to nine months for families with child protection concerns, also addressing trauma and substance misuse issues.

Fears were raised that scrapping MST-CAN, a move which would save £330,000, would lead to more children ending up in the care system.

Leeds City Council said it worked with MST UK, which provides training for specialist therapy teams, to find alternative funding for the service.

A council spokesperson said: “In the context of the extreme financial pressures the council faces, we are having to consider a number of difficult decisions.

“However in the case of MST-CAN we have actively sought out a possible funding opportunity, working with MST UK.”

MST-CAN in Leeds had the equivalent of 5.2 full-time staff, who were still being consulted on the future of the service.

The spokesperson added: “MST UK, the national lead for multi systemic therapy programmes, have submitted a bid for money on behalf of a number of local authority programmes, Leeds being one of them.

“We are still awaiting the outcome of this bid, and are currently in a period of staff engagement that will help inform our decision on the future of the programme.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. If the council stopped wasting money on grandiose schemes that offers nothing to the ordinary residents of Leeds and is only a means for councillors to ‘trumpet’ their own self serving image the money could then be spent on residents toi improve their lives by carrying out repairs that are so urgently needed to our city.

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