Coronavirus (Covid-19) - Council to consider impact of the Coronavirus and implications for finance, services and key projects
Members of South Somerset District Council's District Executive will meet next Thursday (4 June 2020) to consider the response of the Council to the Coronavirus crisis and its impact on the council including its finances, services and projects.
As the Coronavirus crisis took hold, the council committed to supporting communities and businesses of South Somerset through the crisis. This meant reshaping the council, boosting resources in some services, stopping other services and setting up completely new services.
Since the lockdown was announced the council has:
- Provided support to more than 5,500 households facing hardship
- Provided business rate relief to 1,764 businesses with a value of £25 million
- Provided business grants to more than 2,800 businesses with a total value of more than £33 million
- Extended its customer connect service hours during the week and moved it to a seven day a week service and helpline to assist those impacted by the lockdown
- Phoned hundreds of potentially vulnerable residents to check if they need help and support
- Worked to get all rough sleepers off the street and support 180 homeless residents in temporary accommodation
- Set up a completely new service – the Wellbeing Hub – which has provided more than 800 boxes of food and essential supplies to shielded people, vulnerable, those facing hardship and children entitled to free school meals
- Coordinated and supported a network of community and voluntary groups to ensure everyone has access to help in their community
At the same time some services have had to close or scale back operations, for example the Octagon Theatre, Westlands Entertainment Centre, and country parks (which have now reopened for public benefit and wellbeing).
The report to the District Executive sets out the early analysis of the impact on the council, including almost a quarter of staff being in different roles and functions to their normal job, a significant increase in costs and a large drop in income from services such as theatres, leisure and car parking.
Commenting on the report, Leader of the Council, Councillor Val Keitch said:
“I am so proud of our Council and how we have responded to the Coronavirus’ impact on South Somerset communities. We have worked hard - Members and Officers - to ensure we are there to support our businesses and residents and I am grateful for everyone’s efforts.
“This has come at a price though including the performance of some of our services, increase in demand for others and of course the financial cost.
“At the start of the crisis the government encouraged all councils to do whatever it takes to support their communities and I believe we have. They said they would back us financially. As a result, under the encouragement of government we did not furlough staff and cut our costs but redeployed them to services to support businesses and residents. Whilst we have had some money from government, the amount we have received only covers us for just over one month of additional cost and lost income. The government have indicated we can expect no more and so we may have some difficult choices to make, that may have an impact on our communities.”
The report to District Executive outlines how the council may now need to reduce services and cut programmes to improve the district as a result.
The report will be published in full shortly.
The report states that whilst the council has some reserves to cover unexpected costs and downturn in income, most of the reserves it holds are earmarked for programmes to improve South Somerset.
If the Council is required to use these reserves it could mean the scaling back or stopping initiatives to:
- Develop the economy and improve productivity and skills
- Regenerate town centres and high streets which have been suffering from the changes in shopping habits – a process accelerated by the Coronavirus.
- This includes:
- Accelerate housing delivery to meet government targets and deliver affordable housing
- Deal with the Climate Emergency and decarbonise the Council and the local economy
- Support struggling families, reduce deprivation and reduce the number of children in poverty – currently 25% of children in South Somerset grow up in poverty and Somerset has one of the lowest rates of social mobility in the country
Commenting on the report, Finance Portfolio Holder, Councillor Peter Seib said: “SSDC entered the COVID-19 crisis in a good financial position, having embedded the efficiencies of transformation and established new commercial funding streams.
"This approach protected the citizens of South Somerset from Government cuts and the Council had started to deliver on locally demanded changes - revitalising town centres, dealing with climate change and addressing disadvantage. Not every Council had managed their finances so well and many are now in crisis due to the extra costs of the COVID-19 response and lost income due to the shutdown. To give an idea of the scale of the problem nationally, SSDC alone faces a £10m shortfall against a net budget of £15m (2020/21).
"Unfortunately, it seems that the Government expects Councils to spend even their earmarked reserves on COVID-19, and it’s unclear whether it will provide further help. If the Government does not honour its original commitment, that choice will penalise the people of South Somerset more than most, forcing difficult choices on local services and on initiatives that would help our local economy and communities to recover from COVID-19."
To date South Somerset District Council has received £1.7 million of financial support from the government. The report to district executive sets out that the financial impact on the council is around £10 million even if income-generating services such as theatres are able to operate again within the financial year.