County council needs more funding to tackle future coronavirus costs


Last updated Jun 30, 2020
County council offices in Northallerton.

North Yorkshire County Council needs guaranteed income from government to tackle future costs of coronavirus after spending on tackling the crisis is forecast to reach £76 million, says the authority’s leader.

Speaking to The Stray Ferret, Carl Les said the council had been “prudent” with its reserves but needed more backing from government to see out the pandemic and to tackle future costs to the council.

Part of the cost comes with the county council’s responsibility to provide personal protective equipment which cost the authority around £250,000 per week at the peak of the virus. The council has also provided daily support for care homes and 3,000 vulnerable people in the county during the pandemic.

It comes as the authority and Harrogate Borough Council have forecast deficits of £57 million due to a loss of income during the outbreak.

As previously reported, Richard Flinton, chief executive of the county council, told senior councillors earlier this month that the authority has forecast a gross spend around £76 million on fighting the virus.

North Yorkshire County Council leader, Carl Les.

North Yorkshire County Council leader, Carl Les.

But the council has received £26 million in government grants and expects to recover £7.7 million in clinical commissioning group costs.

It leaves a deficit of around £42 million. Cllr Les said the authority and other county councils need backing from government in order to set balanced budgets next year as further funding gaps open.

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Analysis by the County Councils Network (CNN) revealed that 39 county and unitary authorities across the country could be faced with using up their available reserves for 2021/22 to cover a £2.5 billion funding gap amid the pandemic.

It added that a second wave and another lockdown could increase the funding shortfall county councils face to an estimated £4.5 billion over the next two years.

The report acknowledged that current grants from government have reduced the costs of the crisis but is not sufficient enough to plug the gap and more support was needed.

Cllr Les, who is also financial spokesperson for the CNN, said the county council had reserves, both emergency and investment, which will cover its deficit if no financial support is forthcoming.

He said: “We have been prudent with our reserves and put money aside for a rainy day.

“What worries me is that we may need to go into the investment reserve, which may effect our spending on things like broadband and other projects.”

He added that he had written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak on further financial support for county councils.

Meanwhile, Geoff Webber, leader of the Liberal Democrats group on the authority, said the council had handled the unprecedented situation well.

He said: “It is extremely worrying.

“But I think the county council is handling this fairly well so far. I would find it difficult to criticise what it is doing.” 

It comes as Harrogate Borough Council has unveiled a recovery plan to tackle its shortfall due to coronavirus.

The authority faces a £15 million deficit due to loss of income on such areas as leisure and car parking. Senior councillors will discuss its recovery plan at a cabinet meeting tomorrow.

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