A finance chief said Westmorland and Furness Council is in a ‘more secure position’ than other councils.

Cabinet member for finance, councillor Andrew Jarvis (Windermere and Ambleside, Lib Dems), gave the update at a meeting to ‘reassure’ members of the authority’s financial health in light of ‘a lot of comment in the press about the financial sustainability of local government’.

He told members he believed ‘we are in a much more secure position than many authorities’ however he urged caution and said ‘there are many potential risks and pressures’.

A report published on the council’s finances for the first quarter of 2023/2024 said there was a predicted net over expenditure of £324,000 this year which Cllr Jarvis labelled a ‘tiny amount’ considering the authority has a net budget of nearly £270 million.

Cllr Jarvis said: “Although the net movement is close to zero there are a couple of notable overspends, particularly the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) home to school transport and young adults care. These are largely offset by higher interest receipts and lower borrowing costs.”

According to the report there was an overspend of £1.627 million for SEND home to school transport.

The report states this is due to the number of pupils requiring SEND transport increasing by approximately nine per cent each year due to improvements in diagnoses and there had been increased costs of service delivery by providers.

Cllr Jarvis added: “Additional work’s being done particularly on the SEND home to school transport to understand the drivers of overspending and to identify appropriate actions to help manage pressures.

“I do have to say the increase in SEND home-to-school transport costs is an issue across the country. A recent report highlighted these are likely to treble across the decade and are threatening the financial stability of some of the country’s largest councils.”

Cllr Jarvis added the authority has ‘adequate levels of reserves’ but there is a budget gap for 2024/25.

Leading public service UNISON published figures from a freedom of information request earlier this year which shows the council currently has a £9,911,000 funding gap for the end of the 2024/2025 financial year.

Cllr Jarvis previously said: “One of Westmorland and Furness Council’s core values is that it is, and will continue to be, a responsible authority. In financial terms, this means delivering value for money and making the best and most efficient use of our resources.

“It is very challenging financially for all councils this year due to ongoing high inflation, the increasing demand across social care, both for children and adults’ services, and significant backlog maintenance for major assets including roads, buildings and bridges. Ensuring that Local Government is fully funded for its responsibilities and relative need for service provision is essential going forward.”

“In our medium-term financial plan, we identified a £10m budget gap for 2024/25 and we are working towards options to ensure a balanced budget position while delivering on our priorities.”