ALMOST £12m is owed to Dorset County Council – but the authority has decided to write off hundreds of thousands of pounds of the debt.
Debtors include academy schools, departments within the council – and thousands of residents who haven’t paid library fines.
And because the majority of what is owed is ‘young debt’, it ‘should not be considered as a problem’, councillors will be told at a meeting tomorrow.
Around £68,000 is owed for overdue books.
The maximum library fine is set at £12 and going on this figure, it means 5,700 people have fines to pay. But the library department has now agreed to wipe off debts over four years old.
DCC has also agreed to write off around £450,000 of debt incurred by departments such as Children’s Services, Environment and Corporate Resources.
A report for the Audit and Scrutiny Committee shows that on March 31 this year, more than £1m had been outstanding for over a year. But more than £8m was outstanding for 30 days or less, meaning it is ‘young debt’.
And this, according to report author Paul Kent, director of resources, means it shouldn’t be considered a problem. But committee vice chairman Mike Byatt, disagrees.
He said: “Any budget deficit is a concern.
It is money lost that could be used for the provision of services.
“It is right and proper we scrutinise why this has happened and it’s not okay to just say ‘these things happen’ and ‘there’s not much we can do about it’ – that’s not good enough.”
Cllr Byatt added: “This is a very unsatisfactory situation when public services are overstretched.
“The council is not securing the money that it should secure by writing off money that could be recouped for the provision of services.”
Although DCC managed to get the total sum owed down to £7m in 2012/13, it has crept up to £11.988m in the last financial year.
The report says the increase in debt is due to costs incurred by the Dorset Waste Partnership Phase 2, academy schools and a £6.2m bill to the NHS which has now been paid in full.
Mr Kent says: ‘Debts can only be written off if approved by the chief financial officer, or an officer with delegated authority, in this case, the head of internal audit.
‘In every case, the service needs to prove a written explanation to support the request for a write-off, together with an explanation of how similar write-offs will be avoided in the future.’ He adds that ‘new processes’ have been put in place to avoid debts from Adult Services and old payroll debts in the future.
Unpaid library fines
The county council’s head of community services Paul Leivers said: “The library service has a process in place to recover overdue items and charges.
“There are over 2 million items being loaned each year and the majority of users return items and pay any applicable overdue or hire charges for DVDs.
“However a small proportion of these overdue charges or hire charges are not paid. The outstanding monies owed are mainly low value debts with the average debt being £9.
“The total amount written off in 2013-14 was £18,000. This relates to sums owing which were over four years old and are deemed to be unrecoverable.
“To put this into context, the total amount of library fines and fees for 2013-14 was £217,000.
“The value of unpaid fines-fees at the end of 2013-14 was £68,000 and much of this will be paid by the service users on subsequent visits to the library and recovered where possible.”
The following amounts have been approved for write-off in 2013-14:
- Children’s Services £34,025.18
- Environment £8,317.02 PENDING - £6,912.56
- Adult & Community (in DES) £176,893.86 PENDING - £1,417.51
- Adult & Community Services (not in DES) £93,412.10
- Corporate resources £93,110.70
- Other £48,798.81