Coronavirus pandemic presents ‘immense’ challenge to district, says council

North Somerset Council.

North Somerset Council. - Credit: Google Street View

Council leaders have warned of future budget cuts as the authority faces an ‘unprecedented challenge’ due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At a meeting in July, North Somerset Council revealed a shortfall of £28.7million in the authority’s budget due to cost pressures and loss of income as a result of the pandemic – this figure was expected to be reduced to £5.1million following central Government funding.

A revised report of the council’s medium term financial plan was presented to the authority’s executive committee on September 9.

The council is projected to spend an additional £18.6m on delivering public services and will receive more than £14.1million in additional Government grants to fund Covid-related pressures, which leaves a £4.4million shortfall in the budget for 2020/21, compared to the £5.1million originally forecast in July.

A new Government compensation scheme to put towards losses in sales, fees and income from charges will, when received, also reduce the council’s net overspend.

The council’s executive member for finance and performance, Ashley Cartman, said: “It’s no secret that the past 10 years have been exceedingly challenging, but this year’s challenge is immense and unprecedented – we have a massive proverbial mountain to climb. I think we face a number of uncertainties and a high degree of risk in terms of the financial planning. Key budget decisions need to be approved prior to receiving Government funding, but, we will produce a balanced budget and this is the first step in that process.”

In the council’s ‘fresh approach’ to its budget, it will hold workshops where officers will think of ways to deliver better-quality services to residents in North Somerset for the ‘same amount of money’ this month, but admitted budget cuts will form ‘part of’ the authority’s medium term financial plan, which runs from 2021-2024.

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The executive approved the revised report, and the budget for the 2021/22 financial year along with council tax bandings and rates will be approved by authority in February 2021.

Cllr Mark Canniford added there are going to be some ‘incredibly difficult’ decisions which ‘have to be made’ by the council, and if not this administration, then by another.