York council finance boss Debbie Mitchell’s budget warning

Chief finance officer Debbie Mitchell – who would be the council officer responsible for issuing a section 114 notice, effectively declaring bankruptcy – emailed party leaders, and then all councillors with advice on the day of the budget meeting on Thursday, February 22. 

Senior York Labour figures have suggested Ms Mitchell was warning against Liberal Democrat amendment that relied on one-off reserve funding, including a £696,000 public health reserve and £500,000 acquisition reserve. 

The email from Ms Mitchell read: “I continue to advise against the use of one-off reserves, or any other funding, to delay the need to identify and deliver recurring savings without a clear strategy for how we will tackle the known financial challenges. 

“Whilst the council is only required, statutorily, to balance the budget for the year ahead, not acting now could result in an unmanageable savings target in future years, and I would caution council against this.”

Cllr Nigel Ayre, the Liberal Democrat group leader, said the email was not given in good time. 

At the full council meeting, he said leaders received it at 4.28pm on February 22 and all other councillors received the same email just 22 minutes later. 

Cllr Ayre’s Liberal Democrat group had suggested that the council use £1.5 million of government funding for adult social care this year, rather than making savings from a green waste collection charge and cuts to library services. 

The same funding had been used in Calderdale, but York Labour argued that they needed to budget for future years rather than rely on one-off funds.

Cllr Chris Steward, the Conservative group leader, said: “There is no way whatsoever the Liberal Democrats would be doing these amendments if they were in power.”

He added that it was “not deliverable and it treating the people of York with contempt.”

Cllr Steward addressed Liberal Democrat councillors and said: “You have just been in power just under a year ago, why weren’t these done when you were in power?”

Cllr Douglas said: “I am astounded that this amendment is funded from one off-reserves.” 

She added: “It’s absolutely ridiculous to think that we can keep plugging the gap when financial responsibility is so important.”

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