Bedfordshire council leader says more government funding is urgently needed for local authorities because of the impact of COVID-19
Extra money is required sooner rather than later to prevent councils having to cut services, according to Central Bedfordshire Council leader James Jamieson.
The Conservative Westoning, Flitton and Greenfield councillor was speaking at the Local Government Association (LGA) annual conference, held via video link.
“Councils have a legal duty to balance their budgets each year,” said councillor Jamieson, who chairs the LGA.
“Further funding and flexibilities are now urgent if councils are to have the certainty they need to avoid taking steps to cope with cash shortfalls, such as in-year cuts to local services.”
Barely had his comments been made and the government was announcing a new support package to address spending pressures and reimburse them for lost income.
A further £500m is being given to local authorities, but how this latest funding will be distributed among each council in England is still to be revealed. The government describes it as part of a package of more than £27bn to help councils, businesses and communities.
It says the new scheme will allow council and business rates tax deficits to be repaid over three years instead of one.
English councils face a funding gap of £7.4bn because of the loss of income associated with coronavirus, warns the LGA
A “comprehensive plan” for councils is being worked on by the government, the organisation has said. The treasury gave £3.2bn funding to all English councils in two grants to help cover coronavirus costs.
But the LGA says between March and June councils had incurred expenditure of £4.8bn already. Councils have come under increasing financial pressure during the pandemic as demand for their services such as social care grow, while income from local taxation and charges has fallen.
Luton Borough Council is set to take a 10,000-signature petition to the government calling for special support because of its loss of passenger dividend through London Luton Airport.
The local authority revealed it had a £49m financial black hole and has produced an emergency budget to make up a £22.2m shortfall, with 345 jobs in jeopardy.
Bedford Borough Council says it has an expected financial gap of £32.6m over the next two years.
The impact of coronavirus has affected services across the council, working to deliver care for the vulnerable, elderly and shielded, while keeping vital day-to-day operations running in challenging circumstances.
CBC has experienced similar pressures, but has no plans to issue a s114 notice, which happens when a local authority cannot achieve a balanced budget and could mean a ban on new expenditure.
“We’re expecting to see significant ongoing impacts across all aspects of the council,” CBC’s executive member for corporate resources and Conservative Arlesey councillor Richard Wenham said last month.
“This ranges from increased costs in some areas to reductions in revenue, loss of fee income and extra costs in provision of services.“