The secretary of the Bucks Labour Forum has laid bare the worrying financial situation at Buckinghamshire County Council.
According to the accounts published recently, operational deficit has increased significantly to £61.7million over the last year.
But Cllr Martin Tett, leader of Bucks County Council, says that after a tricky decade the council is still managing to balance the books.
The operational deficit is the difference between income and expenditure on service budgets. It represents the funding shortfall for that accounting year.
£61.7million represents a fifth of the total budget for council services, meaning that the authority is operating at only 80 per cent of the budget it requires for fully-funded services.
The deficit can be partly attributed to the government ending its Revenue Support Grant (RSG) , a key source of revenue for authorities across the country.
In 2018, the last year Buckinghamshire County Council received an RSG worth £10.9million.
But Bucks has now become one of the first authorities to lose its grant completely, after years of them being reduced everywhere.
This year, Buckinghamshire County Council borrowed a whopping £308million, compared to £213million a year ago.
Of this borrowing, £296million is from external sources, such as banks. This money is not from the government so it will have to be repaid.
£79million was spent on new investment properties during the year. They received back £7m in rental income.
They began the year with £131m of investment properties, and finished with £193million of property, having spend an additional £79million.
Brian Gammage, of the Bucks Labour Forum, said: “The main issue is that it is piling up debt in doing so, debt that future generations will need to pay up. It would be a more defensible argument from the council if the strategy was working, but it’s not - the £7.9million generated in 2018 is not enough to make any real difference and, of course, the management of these commercial operations also brings extra costs.”
Cllr Tett denied the authority was failing financially. He said: “On the contrary, given the toughest decade we’ve ever experienced, we’ve managed our finances very effectively given all the change, uncertainty and rising demand for services.
“We were also one of the first two county councils to lose all our revenue support grant from government in 2018, making the task yet more difficult.
“We’ve had to take some very difficult and unpopular decisions to live within our means as it’s a legal requirement that we balance our books at the end of every year.
“However, that approach has paid off as our track record of strong financial management means we are in much better shape than many other councils. We also have a solid financial foundation for the transition to the new unitary Buckinghamshire Council next year.
"Looking to the future, we will continue to press government, on behalf of all our council taxpayers, to improve funding formulas for local government especially in key areas like adult social care and children’s services.
“Mr Gammage also specifically raises what he describes as the ‘white elephant of our energy from waste plant.’ The reality is this facility, which is not PFI funded, is set to save around £150million over the next 30 years. If this is a white elephant, then I wish we could have a whole herd!”