THE leader of Trafford Council has sought to address residents' concerns following the announcement that the council must make an additional £6 million in savings from its budget this year.
On June 19, the council released a statement asserting that the financial position it had been forecasting 'would be worse than expected', as the cost of caring for vulnerable people, particularly the elderly and adults with learning difficulties, had 'increased considerably compared to previous assumptions'.
But councillor Sean Anstee said some misconceptions need to be addressed following claims there is now a 'budget black hole'.
"We are investigating why our adult social care forecasts were inaccurate, but the council has not mismanaged its budget, its financial management process worked insofar as the additional costs being incurred triggered a deeper review that exposed the issue, we have not 'lost' any money and all of our spend to date has been incurred legitimately.
"Even if the additional forecasted demand had been identified earlier in the year, the savings would still have had to have been made - it is not optional whether or not we fund the cost of caring for vulnerable adults," said Cllr Anstee.
The council leader said Trafford would very likely overspend on its budget if additional savings were not made.
"That would be the first overspend in 10 years of Conservative control and is not something I am prepared to let happen," said Cllr Anstee.
He said proposals for where the additional savings will be made will be published in the coming weeks, reflecting the council's aim to be as transparent as possible.
"The challenge of bringing forward additional in year savings of this scale should not be underestimated, and is taken very seriously, as difficult choices will have to be made.
" In my leadership so far, I have been open about 'Reshaping Trafford', have arranged regular meetings with our Friends of parks groups, have started to webcast council meetings and have made a conscious choice to engage with local media on sharing not just positive news on the council's activities, but also where we face challenges.
"This is because I believe we are a better authority when we are accountable and transparent, but in doing so we should have a debate within the context of reality."
The Conservative-controlled council had originally forecasted cuts of £17 million in 2014/15 – allowing for a £2.1m increase in adult social care – but that forecast has now risen to £21 million.
Cllr Anstee said he has ordered a 'detailed review' into what had gone wrong, but explained that assumptions for adult social care are made through a complex financial monitoring process, which incorporates individual placement costs, existing service users who may leave the care system and new entrants.
He added: "This council and administration takes its responsibility for caring for the elderly seriously and will not shy away from ensuring that the decisions necessary to meet that responsibility are taken.
"We have serious questions to answer about how our forecasts were not accurate, but likewise, residents of Trafford should know we have not lost money and all spending to date has been legitimately incurred on caring for our vulnerable adult residents."