Norfolk County Council has �4.2m more than it thought

Questions have been raised about a controversial package of cuts and job losses at Norfolk County Council after it emerged the authority has �4.2m more to spend than it first thought.

County Hall's ruling Conservative administration is facing calls to go back to the drawing board after a report showed that a forecast underspend had risen from �1.759m to �5.995m, with the vast bulk stemming from the council's adult social services department.

Last month saw councillors approve cuts totalling around �60m in the next financial year as well as the loss of around 1,000 jobs following reductions in government grant.

Measures included the axing of the council run youth service, reducing services on Norwich's park-and-ride service, and scaling back on services such as sensory support.

Ian Mackie, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance and performance, said the underspend showed the hard work of both officers and councillors in finding savings and bringing budgets under control.

He said the underspend was a one-off and could be used boost a new prevention fund to support older people in Norfolk, offset some of the expected �10m in redundancy costs in the next two years, relieve sudden pressures on services in the wake of the cuts, or tackle risks such as the funding shortfall following the Icelandic Bank collapse.

But Lib Dem leader Paul Morse described the extra cash as a 'windfall', which he said could fund plans he put forward at the budget to provide placements in Norfolk for youngsters in care, which were rejected at last month's budget meeting.

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'They haven't counted the pennies properly, that's hugely embarrassing at a time when they are cutting services and looking to make 1,000 people redundant,' Mr Morse said 'That's a lot of cash; to give it some perspective, it's almost the full cost of the youth service.

'It's hugely embarrassing for the county council and the administration because it calls into question how expenditure is being monitored. The big question is how are they going to use it?'

But Mr Mackie said the vast majority of the underspend had been achieved after getting to grips with the learning difficulties budget, which was usually in the red, and there would be no reworking of the finance plans.

'It would be irresponsible to start spending money when you are only at the start of the one of the most difficult years the council has ever faced,' Mr Mackie said.