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Unitary imposes spending freeze

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A West Midlands unitary has implemented a spending freeze and is planning to close all council buildings at noon on Fridays in an effort to avoid a reported £7m overspend.

Shropshire Council is also asking staff to work from home on the last Friday of every month and is launching a crackdown on unnecessary printing. In an email to staff, obtained by the Shropshire Star, council chief executive Clive Wright said printing was costing the organisation a “colossal” £300,000 a year.

He said the regular Friday “lock out” and home working was part of the council’s move to “mobile and agile working”, although he acknowledged working from home would be difficult for some staff.

Mr Wright wrote: “This year’s budget is proving to be a challenge and consequently I have been asked by the cabinet to implement a spending freeze across the council with immediate effect.”

In a statement council leader Peter Nutting (Con) blamed spiralling costs of adult and children’s social care for the forecast overspend.

He said: “An ever-increasing number of vulnerable people need support which has meant that our adults and children’s social care services are under more pressure than ever. Despite allocating a further £10m to social care for 2018-19, increasing demand in this area now suggests another £5m is required this year; funding that we just don’t have.”

He added: “We will also be encouraging staff to work more flexibly as part of our transition to mobile and agile working. We are not closed for business, we will simply be working in a different way.”

A report to cabinet in September forecast an overspend of £6.9m at the end of quarter one on a net budget of £209m. It also warned general fund reserves were running low. Cllr Nutting said the council had been hopeful that additional funding would be announced at the Budget to alleviate some of the pressures.

However, he said the council had to take action as the council’s share of the additional £650m social care cash announced by the chancellor last week was a “one off” and would not be “anywhere near the additional £15m cost for this year alone”.

In August Torbay Council, another unitary, imposed a moratorium on all non-urgent spending worth more than £1,000 as it also faced budget pressures arising from demand in children’s services.

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