The cost of Covid-19: Dorset Council could face 'dire consequences'

The cost of Covid-19:  Dorset Council could face 'dire consequences'

Published by Maria Greenwood at 11:56am 5th June 2020.

Dorset Council could be facing ‘dire consequences’ financially if the Government does not continue to fund work on the Covid crisis.

The authority has already started to eat into its reserves to meet bills and could run out of money by the end of the financial year unless more grants come in.

So far the Government has given £21m towards the projected £60m extra cost for Dorset Council in dealing with the crisis.

Executive director Aidan Dunn, (pictured below) who has been the council’s gold commander, says the finances are a concern, as they are for other local authorities.

Aidan Dunn

He told a resources scrutiny committee online meeting: 

"As the crisis goes on we are having to eat through, and if I can use the phrase, to  burn through, our reserves –  and our reserves are limited, we can only spend them once, so it is of real concern to us.

"We are not alone, every council in the country is in a similar position, but there is no money which has been promised."

He said the Government had told councils to spend what was needed to tackle problems and that they would be reimbursed.

But he said that beyond the £21m already paid to Dorset Council there was currently no further promise of money, although the council was pressing for another payment both directly and through local MPs.

He said there could be “dire consequences” if the council did not get further funding.

Cllr Brian Heatley online

Weymouth councillor Cllr Brian Heatley (pictured above) said he feared that if the Government did not pay there could be a crisis of funding which might lead to a call for a supplementary, or additional, council tax charge.

He said he could foresee the situation arising where the Government would start deciding to pay for some things, but not others.

He said one example could be that they refused to pick up the bill for lost car parking charges, which the council decided not to collect for several weeks in the early phase of the lock-down.

That decision had not been Government advice.

He said he hoped the council were keeping detailed records of how much staff time was being devoted to dealing the pandemic.

Matt Prosser at desk

Council chief executive Matt Prosser (pictured above) said those details were being kept and the authority was also tracking all income lost and all extra expenditure.

He said he had no doubt there would detailed discussion at some stage over the final bill with Government officials:

"At this stage we are lobbying Government, along with other councils, and we await that response."

 

By Trevor Bevins, Local Democracy Reporter