£54m spending on pandemic leaves Dorset Council’s finances “uncomfortable”

Dorset Council says it’s expecting to spend an additional £54m on coping with the coronavirus outbreak, if as expected, the pandemic continues into the summer.

Its whole budget for this financial year is £304m and this spend is on top of that amount. To help tackle the crisis, central government has given the council an additional £21.4m but this only covers 40 per cent of its additional costs, leaving a shortfall of £32.6m.

Still leaves a shortfall

Dorset Council’s 2020-21 budget, when it was set in February this year, included reserves of £28m but even if all the council’s reserves are taken into account, this still leaves a shortfall.

In its news release, detailing Dorset Council’s financial position, it does not say how it intends to meet that shortfall.

Extra costs

However the council does say that the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted its finances in three main ways:

  • Additional unexpected expenditure on social care for adults and children including a 10 percent increase in fees for care providers, renting and converting rooms in a hotel into a social care base, providing staff and care agencies with extra personal protective equipment (PPE), additional staffing costs, and preparations for potential excess deaths
  • Lost income from the suspension of car parking charges, closure of leisure centres and other commercial services, and lower than anticipated income from business rates and council tax
  • Inability to make planned cost savings due to council employees being redeployed to work in the community, including helping shielded individuals

Supporting Dorset’s people and businesses

Councillor Tony Ferrari, Portfolio Holder for finance, commercial and assets, said:

“We are grateful to the government for the funding we have received to date. We feel that government ministers are listening to councils and responding to our concerns to ensure that the country’s COVID-19 response is as effective as possible. We are doing what the government has asked of us by supporting Dorset’s people and businesses through this crisis.

“The decision to form a unitary council in 2019 is proving to be the right one. Across the country councils have found it more difficult to manage the pandemic when there are two tiers of local government. Our own reorganisation meant that we entered this in a much more financially robust position than we would have been as a county council and five district and borough councils. Although our position is uncomfortable many councils are worse off than Dorset.

“We will continue to brief government ministers, civil servants and our local Dorset MPs on the council’s position.

“So far the government has done as the Chancellor promised, “whatever it takes” to support the country. They do need to keep delivering on this promise.”

Additional and unexpected work

Dorset Council has taken on a whole range of additional and unexpected work in the face of the coronavirus crisis. The council says this includes:

  • Working with local voluntary and community organisations and town and parish councils to support vulnerable people who are shielding with food and medicine deliveries, befriending, dog walking and more
  • Supporting local businesses, for example with the payment of grants and the 12 month business rates holiday
  • Looking after vulnerable children and young people within the new government guidelines
  • Working with schools and childcare providers to ensure education provision for the children of key workers and for vulnerable children
  • Housing rough sleepers and homeless families
  • Discharging from hospital as many people as possible who are not suffering from COVID-19 and who are medically fit to leave, in order to free up hospital beds for COVID-19 patients
  • Managing the delivery and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to council staff and partner organisations
  • Putting arrangements in place for mortality support units for body storage as part of a possible worst-case scenario
  • Managing changes to services in line with Government guidance, for example, closing libraries, leisure centres, day centres, customer access points, and redeploying staff to other services as required
  • Continuing to deliver essential services such as waste collection
  • Providing information and advice on how to stay safe to members of the public

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