Fife schools have been told to stop spending money as the council attempts to plug a £12 million budget gap.
Spending across all Fife Council services with the exception of health and social care is being reined in as the local authority attempts to get as close as possible to breaking even by the end of the financial year.
Eileen Rowand, the council’s executive director of finance and corporate services, said the current level of overspend across services was “not sustainable”.
She said: “In line with the council’s financial regulations, all services must apply rigorous financial management to mitigate overspends and contain expenditure within budget.
“As part of the challenge being faced, schools too have been asked to play their part. Headteachers have also been asked not to make any non-essential spend until the end of this financial year.”
Ms Rowand said school projects which already had funds committed would still go ahead.
“Under the devolved schools management scheme, we recognises that schools require some flexibility to manage resource between financial years,” she continued.
“To assist in meeting this a carry forward of under/over spend of up to 2.5% of service managed budget is usually allowed. It is possible that the allowed carry forward may need to be reduced going into the next financial year. Headteachers have been made aware of this.
“The financial pressures which we have been experiencing for the last few years are not going away and we have tasked managers across all services to do everything they can to reduce overspends.”
The most significant area of overspend is on services for children and families, which accounts for £10m.
Ms Rowand said increased costs associated with looked after children had been a contributing factor.
She said: “We are seeing increasing poverty in Fife and this can have a knock on effect for children’s services.
“But it is our duty as a council to protect the most vulnerable in our society, to do that we have to make sure spending across the council is being used to greatest effect.”
Following reports that area committee spending had been “frozen”, a memo was sent to councillors to clarify that essential projects would still be eligible for funding.
The finance director added: “Community managers will be working with area conveners to ensure there is clarity on the discretion and flexibility that they will need to be able to apply within local communities, particularly in areas where there is significant need.
“The focus will be on avoiding any non essential spend. We do not want to affect any immediate critical work in tackling poverty and inequality.”
Councillor Neil Crooks, the Labour convener of Kirkcaldy area committee, had raised concerns that initiatives tackling poverty could have been hit.
“This is the flexibility I was calling for,” he said.
Council services are forecast to be overspent by £12m. Meanwhile, overall council expenditure is predicted to be overspent by £4.5m at the end of the financial year.
The council’s SNP co-leader David Alexander said: “The general fund overspend is £4.5m and we have a budget of £813m.
“It’s non-essential expenditure that will be curtailed. We want to make sure that every penny hits the right note.
“Given the problems we’ve got, I think the financial team is doing really well.”