This is how much coronavirus is set to cost Lancashire County Council
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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.
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.