Cash-strapped Birmingham City Council has underspent its 2013/14 budget by £11 million, prompting claims Labour bosses have cut services too far.
According to the opposition Conservatives the unspent cash could have been invested in services for the homeless, tackling child poverty, keeping children’s centres and youth centres open and invested in local community projects.
It was also pointed out that the council has saved only £2.5 million by the controversial cutting of free green garden waste collections.
Tory deputy leader and finance specialist Coun Randal Brew (Northfield) said: “In the debate on that budget we said, while accepting there were budget pressures, that we would not have cut £1.1 million from the supporting people budget, £1 million from children’s centres, we would have reinstated the community chest budget at a cost of £3 million, put £2 million more into youth centres and spend £4 million supporting children living in poverty.
“Now at the end of the year there is an £11.7 million under spend.”
The £11 million did not include funds earmarked for specific projects. This included £8.7 million held over for the building of affordable new homes due to national material shortages and contract delays.
A further £7 million went unspent on the Troubled Families initiative which has now been carried over into this year. The council has been warned to spend the money and show successes by April next year if it is to continue to receive Troubled Family funding from government.
Coun Brew also pointed out that the election office had £800,000 left over at the end of the year because there were no elections in 2013. “We knew that in advance,” he pointed out, “so why put it in the budget?”
Lib Dem deputy leader Coun Jon Hunt (Perry Barr) also questioned the policy contingency fund – a pot of money for a rainy day – which had been under-spent by £2.7 million.
He said: “It has almost become a parallel reserve fund.”
But the Labour council’s deputy leader Ian Ward (Shard End) said that an £11 million variation on a total council budget of £3.4 billion is relatively small and shows that the council is working efficiently and has effective financial management.
“This represents a very, very good performance and reflects credit on the financial officers. You also need to see that figure in the context of £125 million of savings that had to be achieved.
“It is somewhat unusual to hear a Conservative politician become a tax and spend politician in the way outlined.
“All the issues the Conservatives raise are one-off measures, but we have to look to the long term to ensure we can deliver a balanced budget going forward.”
He said that the policy contingency fund was there for unforeseen circumstances and that it was easy to say with hindsight that the money should not have been set aside.
“We have taken the right approach, we’ve taken the prudent approach,” he added.