Hertfordshire County Council recorded a £681,000 underspend overall last year, despite significant overspends on social and children’s services.

The budget monitor report – presented to the county council’s cabinet on Monday (June 10) – shows there were additional costs of around £8 million incurred by adult care services and children’s services in 2018/19.

But it says the council achieved an overall underspend – through the addition of one-off windfalls, unexpected grants, reduced utility costs, and rates rebates.

At the cabinet meeting, executive member for resources and performance Cllr Ralph Sangster said this was the smallest margin recorded over a number of years – underscoring the difficult situations that had occurred.

And he warned that over the next few years the county council would face more “difficult times”.

After considering the report at the meeting, members of the cabinet agreed that uncommitted contingency monies should be transferred to reserves.

They agreed that £6 million should be transferred to transition reserves, which is intended to provide a short-term solution should the financial settlement from the Government be less than expected.

And they agreed £420,000 should be transferred to the ‘transformation reserves’.

When the same report was considered a few days earlier by the waste management and community safety cabinet panel, Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors refused to back the move.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Paul Zuckowsky highlighted his party’s budget proposals earlier in the year to use some of the reserves for service delivery.

And he said, with that in mind, the Liberal Democrats could not now support moving additional funds into the reserves.

Meanwhile Labour’s Cllr Judi Billing said they would also abstain, pointing to their own alternative budget proposals.

But at the meeting of the cabinet on Monday Cllr Sangster hit out at the “reckless attitude” of the opposition parties.

“I must record on this occasion my profound concern over the reckless attitude of both Liberal Democrats and Labour policies, in relation to the treatment of this council’s reserves,” he said.

“It flies in the face of the experiences of many other councils who have adopted a similar approach only to find themselves in an unsustainable financial decline.

“This council has modest but adequate reserves and ensuring they are fit to meet the challenges of the future should be a priority for any administration.

“Taking the opportunity, therefore, to improve our resilience by adding this years surplus to our transition reserve will insulate our residents against  future catastrophic service reductions, should central government’s support for the ever-increasing costs of caring for some of the most vulnerable in our community not be forthcoming”

At the meeting Cllr Sangster said that during the last three months of the financial year (2018/19) a projected £1.5million overspend had been turned around to a £681,000 underspend.

However he said this was the smallest margin over a number of years and that it underscored some difficult situations that had occurred during the year.

He pointed to an overspend in adult social care of £3 million and children’s services of £5million, incurred as a consequence of more children with more complex needs.

But he said a number of one-off ‘opportunities’ and additional grants had mitigated the impact of the overspends, as well as lower energy costs and reduction in interest costs.

“It underlines the challenge we face in the current year and the reason why it is so important we get ahead of the game this year and ensure our programme of savings that are necessary to balance the budget this year are forthcoming,” he said

The overall spend by the council in 2018/19, according to the report, was £789.216 million.