Spending by Devon County Council is set to rise by just over 10 per cent in the next financial year, with most of the extra cash for vulnerable children and adults.

The Conservative-run council wants to spend £696 million on services from April – up from £630 million this year – but the final budget won’t be approved until next month.

Devon’s ruling cabinet approved a target budget on Wednesday [11 January] which, if adopted, will mean its underperforming children’s services will get the biggest cash injection of £32 million and spending on adult social care will go up by £27 million.

The respective 18.4 and 8.8 per cent increases are significantly more than those afforded to other departments. Public health and communities is set to go up by 5.4 per cent, while climate change, environment and transport will get a 3.5 per cent rise.

The figures come just months after long-serving council leader John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh & Wembury) warned it would have to make deep cuts to local services unless central government provides more money.

Since then, almost £50 million of savings have been identified in the county’s spending, the details of which will be outlined in the coming weeks, while finance chief Angie Sinclair says the government settlement given to Devon for 2023/24 is “better than expected.”

Explaining why there are savings as well as spending increases in the budget, Ms Sinclair called it a “reprioritisation,” explaining: “We’re making those savings so that we can invest in other priority areas within the county council.”

She added: “Although we have savings of £50 million, the investment into our services is in excess of £115 million for next year. That is a huge sum of money.”

Cabinet member for finance Phil Twiss (Conservative, Feniton) said the upcoming financial year has been “the most difficult in living memory in reaching a realistic and affordable set of figures,” but added: “I am certain that the target figures before you today are both realistic and achievable.”

Opposition leader Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge) responded to Cllr Twiss describing the target budget as “realistic” by saying: “I think I probably heard him say that at the last budget and then within two months we were £30 million off [predicted overspend].”

“No one has a crystal ball,” he added, “but we will wait and see and make our judgements as and when the budget starts to unfurl.”

Labour group leader Carol Whitton (St David’s and Haven Banks) acknowledged the “sheer hard work” that has gone into putting together the figures, but expressed “some scepticism” that the current year or next year’s budgets will balance out: “We wait and see.”

The current year’s budget is forecast to overspend by £7 million, despite a cost-saving scheme reducing the gap by £26 million.

While Cllr Whitton welcomed the extra investment in children’s services and adult social care, she questioned how much of the extra cash would go to additional provision on top of meeting current needs.

Independent group leader Frank Biederman (Fremington Rural) slammed the amount of funding the government has made available for Devon, highlighting how it has drastically cut real terms funding to the county council since 2010. “They’re not really levelling-up, are they?” said Cllr Biederman, who also criticised the one-year funding settlement by Westminster.

In response, Cllr Twiss said: “This isn’t just about money; it’s how we best service the needs of people that need our help in this county.

“Yes, money is incredibly important … but this is about balancing the books this year, balancing the books next year with a sensible budget and, critically, proper real transformation – how are we best serving the needs of people who live here in the county.”

Devon’s cabinet approved the target budget unanimously. The council’s scrutiny committees will now analyse the details in the coming weeks, while a number of public consultations will also be held.

A full meeting of the council will debate and vote on the 2023/24 budget on Thursday 16 February.