MID Devon’s Liberal Democrats have hailed a “significant achievement” after drastically reducing an expected £1 million overspend this year.

Mid Devon District Council’s cabinet heard last week that its general fund, which covers its key services, would now only overspend by £119,000 for the current financial year ending in April.

A huge contributor to the steep drop from the £1 million gap predicted in March has been a move by the authority not to fill some job vacancies.

It had targeted £400,000 in savings by not hiring new staff, but has surpassed this to almost hit half-a-million pounds.

It added that while the use of agency staff, which tend to be more expensive, had risen in areas such as waste, planning enforcement and public health, its overall spending on temporary workers is £220,000 lower than at the same point last year.

Elsewhere, it has earned more than it expected to from garden and trade waste payments, which helped to offset drops in planning fees, which have fallen in line with the softer housing market.

The cost savings and improved earnings mean that the council will now only need to use £119,000 from reserves – much lower than the £625,000 that it thought it would need.

This will, however, take it marginally below its agreed £2 million minimum balance in its general fund.

Councillor James Buczowski (Liberal Democrat, Cullompton St Andrew's), cabinet member for finance, said: “To achieve so much of the £1 million savings target is remarkable and we are making good on our promise of fiscal responsibility.”

The Liberal Democrats took control of the council in the local elections last year for the first time since 1999.

The party gained 21 seats, giving it 33 in total out of 42. The Conservatives lost 13 seats, leaving them with five councillors.

Bradley Gerrard