It is probably true that having set out to find a black hole in the City Council’s £3.5 billion budget, one will indeed be found.
Lo and behold, less than two months after taking control, the Labour administration has discovered £21 million worth of budget pressures.
The final budget of a Tory-Lib Dem coalition which for eight years prided itself on ‘fiscal discipline’ was approved in February with some £112 million worth of cuts.
Almost from day one there were questions over how non-specific ‘‘efficiencies’’ and ‘‘back office reorganisations’’ were going to deliver such huge savings.
There was speculation over how you could predict the £7 million savings from the Telecare system which replaced home visits by nurses with a televised consultation.
Or how you could project £1 million from a home to school transport cuts while consultation on those cuts was ongoing and no firm proposals were on the table. And while still in opposition the Labour group described the budget as a ‘‘ticking time bomb’’.
Now a report from the director of finance Jon Warlow, going to next week’s Cabinet meeting, has found what the new Labour leadership are describing as the black hole.
This is a routine budget report which highlights spending pressures and covers the first two months of this financial year – coincidentally the dying days of the Tory-Lib Dem administration.
There are £21 million of pressures on the revenue budget – with almost three quarters coming from the Children, Young People and Families directorate.
Crucial savings yet to be identified include the delayed closure of residential care units, a result of the failure to recruit sufficient numbers of foster carers for troubled children which has added £2.4 million to the costs and a delay in the recovery of set up costs for academies which has pushed up the budget by £3.2 million.
One assumption wrongly made was that the numbers of children requiring social care placements would be static – when in fact it has risen – along with the call on other welfare-related services.
While some monies which were set in stone – including inflation adjustments on certain PFI related payments on school buildings.
A couple of weeks ago it emerged that council had budgeted for a £400,000 saving on events with a pledge to make up the deficit with private sponsorship. No work has been done on this and so grants to the St Patrick’s Day Parade, Eid Mela and other key fixtures in the cultural diary are at risk.