BOSSES at County Hall have been ‘overly optimistic’ about the state of Worcestershire County Council’s finances, an independent report has said.

The Bureau of Investigative Reporting has reported that the authority has run down its usable reserves by 47 per cent in order to balance its books over the last five years. It has also exceeded its children’s services budget over the last five years, according to the bureau’s analysis.

The report is based on an assessment made by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) on behalf of the county council in June 2017, at the cost of £30,000.

But the county council says it used the report to improve its financial position.

The investigation into the council’s medium term financial plan and cost-cutting strategy was then presented to the authority’s Conservative Cabinet and strategic leadership team.

The Bureau says the CIPFA report described the council’s ‘transformation savings’, one of the main ways it hopes to save money, as “overly optimistic”.

It said the council was at risk of spending £26m more than it received in this financial year, with that figure rising to £60m in 2020/21.

It also stated, at the time, that plans to set a lower than maximum council tax increase were 'counter-intuitive' and that bosses at County Hall needed to show 'a sense of urgency appropriate to the real challenge'.

The council says that it has since adjusted some of its plans to be in a stronger financial position.

A spokesperson for Worcestershire County Council said: “The review was requested to inform our budget planning.

"The approach taken by the council was in line with the CIPFA advice and also helped us to shape how we moved forward with our medium term financial plan.

“We listened to the professional advice from CIPFA and increased our assumptions around council tax rates.

"The emerging financial pressures during 2017/18 with regard to children's and adult social care were reviewed in detail and this led to investments of £10.5m into children's social care and £7.8m into adult social care for 2018/19.

“The review also supported a refresh of our transformation plans and longer-term investment into children's services, both of which were included in the medium term financial plan.

“Despite the budgetary pressures, we are in a robust financial position and a balanced budget for 2018/19 was approved by councillors in February 2018."

The new chief executive of Worcestershire County Council Paul Robinson said, while the authority faced financial pressures, 'it’s not in the same state as Northamptonshire', which has been put under the control of a special centrally-appointed commissioner after essentially going bankrupt earlier this year.