Financial challenges continued last year

The net worth of the county council decreased by £56million in 2014/15, due in part to increased pension liability and long-term borrowing.

Northumberland County Council’s draft statement of accounts for the last finanical year was presented to the authority’s audit committee last week.

The explanatory foreword underlines that ‘2014-2015 continued to present significant financial challenges with the impact of central government funding reductions, exacerbated by increased demands for council services arising from the economic downturn and demographic pressures’.

A revenue budget of £281million was approved, after taking account of ring-fenced grants such as the £163million Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG), which included efficiencies of £32million.

The bulk of this – £143million – came from council tax, alongside £77million from the formula grant and £61million in business rates.

An overspend of £1.84million was transferred from the council’s general fund. The report states that the £26.64million in the general fund, combined with the useable reserves, are considered sufficient to meet the funding shortfalls over the course of the medium-term financial plan (to 2019).

A large proportion of the council’s expenditure – 30.9 per cent – is staff-related, while 18.2 per cent relates to the purchase of supplies and services. The service with the highest gross expenditure is education and children’s services (39.5 per cent), most of which is financed by the DSG, followed by adult social care (21.7 per cent) and housing services (15.7 per cent).

Capital spend totalled £159million, with notable projects including the Ashington leisure facility, the Morpeth Northern Bypass, affordable housing, broadband rollout, schools maintenance and the local transport plan – £38 million was spent on highways and transport.

In terms of financing this expenditure, the main sources were borrowing of £92million (58.2 per cent) and capital grants of £47million (29.8 per cent).