It will be a while yet before Hastings Borough Council will know the full impact Covid-19 has had on its finances.
Last night the council’s ruling Cabinet met to discuss the financial implications of the pandemic on the council’s spending and revenue generation plans.
In a report from Chief Finance Officer Peter Grace Councillors were told: “The financial implications of Covid-19 for 2020/21 and beyond are many and varied and are expected to last for several years.
“The estimates are changing weekly as the impacts become better understood and the rules change. Understanding the financial position will assist with the difficult and challenging decisions that will need to be made on the council’s corporate plan, resources, and the ability to fund initiatives in the future.”
In cold hard cash Covid-19 might have cost Hastings council anywhere between £3.6m and £10.5m and the impact has been: “Far reaching across all council activities,” Mr Grace told the meeting.
His report also warned councillors that the council needed to continue to look for savings: “The Council has had enormous budget cuts every year since 2010. Given the financial pressures now being faced services will need to continue to identify and make savings in order to produce balanced budgets for future years.”
Councillor Peter Chowney, the authority’s lead member for finance says the crisis has been unprecedented for local government and pointed out that many councils were at risk of going bankrupt. Hastings he said had reserves that had not gone below £6m which meant that it could cope with the impact but that would put it back to square one in having to rebuild a financial reserve.
He highlighted areas where the council might yet find itself in difficulty. It has already lost £1.3m in car parking income and while councils that run leisure facilities directly are likely to be refunded by government for lost income Mr Chowney said it remained unclear what would happen with councils like HBC that contracts out leisure centre management.
The Cabinet agreed that
- An updated Medium-Term Financial Strategy be considered by Cabinet on the September 1st that will include a mid-year review of the Capital Programme and the impacts on reserves.
- To continue to review expenditure pressures and income opportunities as part of the council’s Priority Income and Expenditure Review (PIER) process in order to help achieve sustainable budgets in the future.
- The Council continue to make representations for additional funding from government – both in the short and long term.