Wealden Council is expecting the COVID-19 crisis to cost it between £5 million and £7 million because of extra spending and loss of income.
Council leader Bob Standley told a full council meeting that the crisis had “hugely impacted” the council’s finances.
And he warned that if the country went into a recession, as was expected, businesses would close, resulting in less income for the council, people without jobs wouldn’t be able to pay their council tax, and council tax support would go up.
He said the situation was being carefully, and continually, monitored and a recovery plan was being developed.
At the time of the meeting, May 20, he said extra costs and reduction in income were in the region of £5 million.
The council had received a Government grant of £1.6 million, a shortfall of £3.4 million so far, and costs were expected to continue to rise over the next few months.
Cllr Standley expected extra costs of between £5m and £7m this financial year. How much the costs rose depended on how long social distancing continued, the amount of trade when shops opened – the council owns the Vicarage Field shopping centre at Hailsham – and the effect on hospitality, pubs and tourism if people were discouraged from tourism.
How council is supporting community during crisis
A picture of the extra work conducted by the council, so far, during the crisis is detailed in a report going to the council’s cabinet on Wednesday (June 10).
The work has included:
- Suspending business rates for more than 2,200 businesses.
- Awarding Government grants totalling £34.25 to more than 3,100 businesses.
- Supporting businesses, as they transition to new ways of working, by providing signage for social distancing, leaflets, posters, and other information, including support for a growing local takeaway market.
- Monitoring the closure of business premises to ensure there was no relaxation of restrictions.
- Deferring payment of fees from licensed premises.
- Offering reassurance and support to small and medium-sized businesses about council contracts.
- Awarding hardship funding of £512,000 to local residents.
- Manually processing more than 3,500 credits of up to £150 per resident following a Government announcement of a hardship fund to Council Tax Support.
- Helping people who had become homeless or were threatened with homelessness, and others who were homeless and needed to isolate because of Covid-19.
- Working with Sussex Police to support people as a result of an increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.
- Supporting tenants struggling to pay their rent, and residents in council retirement living properties that need additional help while self-isolating.
Garden waste collections were temporarily suspended and reinstated but the core waste collection service operated by Biffa was described as performing well.
In addition Environmental health, along with East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, received an increase in calls from residents concerned about bonfires.
The crematorium, at Horam, dealt with ‘a small number’ of Covid-related cremations, and, as the national infection rate was going down, it was dealing with the delayed impact of a higher-than-normal death rate.
The number of planning and building control applications reduced, with a major impact on the income generation for both those teams.
The council is a member of the Sussex Resilience Forum (SRF)which initially focussed on supporting Public Health messaging while also ensuring emergency supplies of food, PPE, and wider community preparedness.
The SRF has now set up a Recovery Co-ordinating Group as lockdown restrictions are eased.
The report to cabinet says: “This is being done in parallel with contingency planning against a reasonable worst case scenario should a second wave of the pandemic occur with the easing of restrictions.”
Council members were contributing to Community Impact Assessment for Wealden being drawn up to inform the SRF’s planning processes with the needs of the district’s communities.
At same time a recovery plan focussing on business continuity for the council’s own operations is also being developed.
There’s much more detail about the council’s work during the Covid-19 crisis in reports for the cabinet meeting which can be found here on the Wealden website.