There’ve been so many stories in the media recently regarding the Council’s reserves that you’d think that Mr Clegg and his Lib Dem party in Sheffield would have checked their facts before launching in to their pathetic claims that Sheffield is sitting on huge reserves that could be used to protect front line services. In an open letter, Nick claims that Sheffield has £167m reserves, a figure he has taken from the Council’s ‘statement of accounts’ that has a line labelled ‘useable reserves’. What he conveniently failed to say was that many of these are earmarked to cover committed expenditure, some as the result of national legislation. For example, it includes £26 million that we are looking after for, and belonging to, Sheffield’s schools; £25 million that can only be spent on council housing; and, £57 million that is committed to our ‘capital programme’ – the really big projects that span a number of years like rebuilding schools, new road schemes, major building repairs and so on. Government rules are very clear that we cannot spend this money on services. Other committed reserves for major capital projects, such as ‘Streetsahead’ of around £48million leave a true ‘useable reserves’ figure of around £11million. Now we could, in theory, use this money to support services, but would that be wise? To put this in context, when Sheffield was devastated by flooding a few years ago, the council spent over £7million that wasn’t recoverable from government compensation schemes; recent bad winters have seen an additional spend of over £2millon to support measures across the council. Our reserves are in fact equivalent to a household that spends £20,000 per year and keeps just £170 in case of emergencies. It makes sense to keep some cash back ‘just in case’.
Leader of the Lib Dems in Sheffield, Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed, seems equally inclines to mislead the public as he too has indicated that he would use reserves to support next year’s budget. Is this a case of misrepresentation of the facts, or an attempt to mislead the public? Or maybe it’s more an indication of just how little Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems in Sheffield understand about economic and accounting procedures. Time for Nick and Shaffaq to apologise, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.