This is how much coronavirus is set to cost Lancashire County Council
Lancashire County Council estimates that the final bill which it faces as a result of the coronavirus crisis could be as much as £120m.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that the figure was submitted on an official return to central government last week, outlining the additional costs which will be incurred by the authority.
And County Hall could be left with a £50m shortfall if ministers do not cover that extra Covid-related expenditure in full.
So far, the government has pledged £35.3m to the county council – the authority’s share of an initial £1.6bn in special funding for local authorities.
Over the weekend, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick doubled that nationwide amount – but has not yet revealed how the second tranche of cash will be split between individual councils.
Even if the latest wave of funding provides a similar share for Lancashire to the first, the total received by the county authority would be around £70m – unless more money were forthcoming at a later date.
“Robert Jenrick’s exact words [during a telephone conference with local authority leaders at the start of the crisis] were to ‘spend the money and seek forgiveness later’ – and we’re going to hold him to that,” said Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver.
“He has put £3.2bn in, but that will not even come close to meeting the additional expenditure local government has incurred.
“Over the Easter weekend, we had the opportunity to buy a supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) – and it cost over £2m, but you’ve just got to go for it. We have created a stockpile for the Lancashire Resilience Forum [which is co-ordinating the Covid response in the county] – and only the county council had the money to do that.”
Before the latest announcement, councils across the country had begun to express concern that the government was expecting them to share the burden of coronavirus costs – instead of reimbursing them in full. Mr. Jenrick has since said that the government is making good on its pledge to provide councils with the resources they need.
Authorities like Lancashire County Council are expected to face huge increases in costs for adult social care. County Hall has already promised to make crisis payments to independent providers in order to enable them to continue to deliver vital services in the face of financial challenges caused by the pandemic.
But County Cllr Driver warned that unexpected bills did not tell the whole story for local authorities.
“It’s good that the government is recognising that councils are occurring additional expenditure. But our budget for the current year also includes significant savings, of about £50m.
“Much of those savings are not now likely to be achieved – but the government have said they recognise that and will have a look at it.
“We are obviously taking a big hit and we’ll have to give very careful consideration to our financial strategy going forward – but fortunately we started from a very sound footing. If we hadn’t sorted out the structural deficit at the authority, I shudder to think where the county council would have been now in trying to respond to this emergency.”
There is speculation that the second tranche of extra government funding could be weighted towards district councils, which are facing a collapse in some of their main income streams – with facilities such as car parks going unused and leisure centres closed.
They are also co-ordinating the local community hubs which have been set up across the county to deliver food and basic supplies to those unable to leave their homes because of their vulnerability should they catch Covid-19.
Across Central Lancashire’s districts, there was a cautious welcome for the second round of government funding – but a warning that more might be needed.
Adrian Phillips, chief executive of Preston City Council – which received £97,000 from the first wave of government coronavirus cash – said:
“We are working hard to provide essential services to vulnerable people in our community during this pandemic to ensure everyone has access to food, advice and support.
“This costs money and we are grateful that the Government has recognised the importance of these services and provided additional funding to make sure we can continue to support residents.
“Many organisations across all sectors will be counting the impact of reduced income at this time. This is something we will assess once this virus has passed, but we need central government to confirm it will meet the shortfall in our budget that coronavirus has caused.”
South Ribble Borough Council, which was handed £41,000 in the first round of government funding, said that it had been put under financial stress by the pandemic.
Council leader Paul Foster said: “I am immensely proud of how this council has responded to the Covid-19 crisis. It has been far from easy, but I think residents acknowledge that South Ribble Borough Council is going above and beyond to support the people of this borough when they need us most.
“All our fantastic efforts have, however, put considerable pressure on our finances – so the government’s announcement over the weekend was very welcome news and I am glad they responded to our call for help.
“I am yet to receive a precise sum for the amount of money we can expect from the government – so I look forward to hearing more detail on this and whilst I am grateful for the government’s aid, I do fear it may not be enough.
“For that reason, I would urge the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to talk to us regularly and work with us to keep an eye on the financial pressures we are under.
“Of course, we want to help as many vulnerable people in South Ribble as possible – but the money needed to make this happen does not grow on trees – and we do not want to have to drop any essential services – so we vitally need government funding at this time of crisis.”
Chorley Council has so far received £51,000 from the government – and has echoed the call of neighbouring authorities that their efforts must not be forgotten in the final reckoning of the coronavirus bill.
Deputy leader Peter Wilson said: “The council, during these extraordinary times, is quite righty providing services and support measures above and beyond what we would normally deliver – and this is a fantastic thing; the amount of people we have been able to help through food parcels, business support and community initiatives is really pleasing to see.
“However, considerable pressure is now being felt financially as our outgoings increase and our revenue streams dry up. For this reason, we welcome the government’s additional £1.6 billion for councils.
“We will be interested, in the coming days, to read the full details. It’s very possible that the money we receive will not be able to completely cover our costs, and if this is the case we would urge the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP to keep council funding under constant review.
“Councils are providing vital work at the moment – and I want to publicly thank all Chorley Council staff for their fantastic and continuing efforts to support Chorley’s most vulnerable and needy – but we need the financial support of the Government to ensure that financially these measures are accounted for and within our budgets.”
Announcing the latest round of funding over the weekend, Robert Jenrick praised councils for everything they were doing to help the national effort.
“I promised local government would have the resources they need to meet this challenge and [this] demonstrates my commitment to doing just that. We stand shoulder to shoulder with local government and my priority is to make sure they are supported so they can continue to support their communities through this challenging time.
“Up and down the country council workers are the unsung heroes as we tackle this virus. They are in the front line of the national effort to keep the public safe and deliver the services people need. Never has this been more important and we are all rightly grateful for everything that they are doing.
“This new funding will support them through immediate pressures they are facing to respond to coronavirus and protect vital services,” Mr. Jenrick said.
The exact allocations from the second round of coronavirus funding for councils are expected to be published shortly.