DORSET Council finished the last financial year around £3.5million short on its budget target.

The officer who heads the council’s finances says the amount was “a reasonable result” given inflation during the year together with larger than expected pay increases and the rising costs of a range of goods and services.

Aidan Dunn said the figure represented only around one per cent of the council’s total budget.

At one point during the year it had been predicted that the council could be at least £10million adrift.

The senior officer told councillors that there would remain challenges in the current financial year, which started this month, as the authority continued to make savings by making changes to the way it runs services.

He said both of the two biggest spending departments – children’s  and adult services, had done well over the past twelve months, generally bucking the national trend with both investing in ways which, in the long-run, would save money.

Mr Dunn said education remained “a significant risk” with concerns over a long-term funding agreement with the Government, which might need repaying, and the growing trend for schools to opt to become academies, receiving their funding direct.

He said he was also concerned about falling school pupil numbers in some areas, which might, ultimately, put the future of some village primary schools at risk and the need to build new schools in places where there was expected to be big increases in population.

The executive director said one of the key areas to focus attention on during the year would be school transport budgets, both for mainstream schools and pupils with additional needs.

In November councillors were told that the system was broken and needed fixing – with the authority now spending over £12million each year on transport for pupils with special education and/or physical needs, compared to £8.6m for mainstream school pupils.

A shortage of drivers, post Covid, and rising fuel and other prices, had combined to add to pressures on the budget.

Officers at County Hall are currently working on ways to reduce school transport costs.