Essex County council holding �173m in reserve

ESSEX County Council has more money in its coffers than any other local authority in the country, latest figures have revealed.

The council has about �173million hoarded away at a time when more than 500 county hall staff are facing redundancy.

The figures outlining council reserves for 2012/13 have been released by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Essex’s reserves are more than double that of neighbouring Suffolk, which has �84m in the bank and larger than Kent, which has �101m.

Finance boss councillor David Finch said: “While Essex is quoted to have �173m in reserves, the vast majority of this is earmarked for specific or future purposes.

“Only about �42m is available for general or emergency purposes, which is less than 5% of our annual budget. In addition, the �173m is put to work supporting efficiency programmes and capital expenditure before its ultimate use.

“Our reserves have also been partially used to offset the front-loaded Government reductions in funding to local authorities last year, thereby reducing the impact on frontline services.

“We are the second-largest council in the UK and, as a prudent authority, we believe we have a suitable level of reserves for future funding requirements, supporting our transformation programme and unforeseen events.

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“While the average English authority has reserves equivalent of 10.6% of its gross spend, we have reduced ours to 9.7%. Funding ongoing expenditure through one-off reserves is not a prudent thing to do.

“In fact, we have been congratulated by the Audit Commission and central Government for the quality of our financial management.”

Essex County Council is looking to deliver �300m of savings by the end of 2013 – a target it has been working towards since 2010. The budget for 2012/13 needs to find a share of the savings worth �85m.

According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, English local authorities expect to be holding a total of �10.8billion in reserves on March 31.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said: “All told, councils still have over �10bn held in reserve to fall back on.

“Most councils have maintained significant reserves, which will give them room to manoeuvre on their finances in future years, and help them to support budgets and deliver efficient local services.”