Published Friday, 3 July 2020
Government has announced further Covid support funding, immediately prior to the draft contingency Budget being reviewed by the Value For Money Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 13 July.
For the past four months, the council has focussed its priorities on supporting the community and responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The ongoing emergency is causing the council to lose key income sources, such as revenue from its leisure centres, car parks and other fees and charges. The council is also investing money and resources on supporting vulnerable residents, the homeless and businesses and coordinating the response of local volunteer organisations, as well as processing business grants and applications for financial support and benefits.
This will leave the council with a shortfall, currently projected at over £6m, equivalent to just under half of its net annual budget for 2020/21. The contingency Budget was drafted after the council had received £1.3m in grants from government, but prior to the latest government announcement, the detail of which has yet to be published. It therefore sets out how the council would meet its shortfall in the event that no further funding is forthcoming. Proposals include identified expenditure reductions, savings on staff salaries through a managed recruitment freeze and the use of over £3m of the council’s reserves.
The Government’s latest support package includes £500m to help councils with their Covid-19 costs, however the detail over how that will be allocated to the country’s many struggling councils has yet to be published. Waverley Borough Council’s initial analysis indicates this money will still fall significantly short of covering all of the projected funding gap.
Councillor Mark Merryweather, Waverley Borough Council Portfolio Holder for Finance, Assets and Commercial Services, said: “We’ve received some support from central government but – while we’re still awaiting the final detail of this latest announcement – we are disappointed that on the face of it this will not cover all of our shortfall. In May, the Communities Minister, Robert Jenrick MP, gave assurances that already stretched local authorities faced with dramatically reduced revenue ‘would not be left short of funds’.
“Even before the coronavirus pandemic, planned cuts to our funding by government meant we had to make savings of almost £1m to balance this year’s Budget, and total savings of over £5m per year by 2023/24.
“The impact of coronavirus means there are some even more difficult decisions ahead, including cutting or delaying some projects and using our reserves (which will need to be topped back up again). But I want to reassure residents that we are not planning to cut services. Now more than ever our communities, our residents and our businesses need us to help guide them through this terrible situation. Together, we will get through this.”
The proposed contingency Budget will continue to go through the Waverley’s usual committee procedures while the council awaits the detail on the latest round of government support.