Council budget: Deputy Leader welcomes ''improving picture'' but govt ''funding promises must be met''

Cabinet councillors today (10/12/20) considered the council's latest budget position in light of the acute funding challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has created and the yet to be fulfilled government promise to fully cover the associated costs.

The Cabinet budget update in September forecast a deficit £4m in the current financial year, with future deficits of between £2.8m to £1.5m (2021/22 to 2024/25), reflecting the impact of the pandemic in terms of lost income from fees and charges, delayed savings, additional direct costs and the financial support so far received from the government.

The latest position shows an improvement of £1.3m in 20/21, due to reduction in costs and delivering further savings.

Councillor Zoe Nicholson, Deputy Leader of Lewes District Council and Cabinet Member for Finance, said: "While I welcome the improving picture presented today and thank officers for their tireless work to address this unprecedented pressure on the council budget, our financial position remains extremely serious and of great concern to my Cabinet colleagues and me.

"I repeat my calls on government to honour its Covid-19 funding promises to avoid cuts in vital public services, local services that our most vulnerable residents rely on.

"The income compensation scheme set up by the government for councils does not allow for commercial income lost, which is frankly ridiculous. Government has spent years pursuing a policy of forcing councils to fund public services by developing their own commercial services, such as investing in property schemes, punishing councils for doing what they required is deeply unfair on staff and local residents. it is very likely that our losses on this form of income will continue into next year and this needs fixing by government."

To mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on council finances, Cabinet councillors had previously earmarked £1.8m from reserves to act as a buffer against the unprecedented financial burden.

Councillor Nicholson added: "Quite clearly it is not sustainable to keep drawing on our reserves to balance the budget, but we have little or no choice.

"The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced his spending review on November 25, but we are still waiting for the details of whether it will help address the deficits most district councils across the UK are facing. I am still concerned that authorities like ourselves will get left behind, which will mean some hard choices for delivery of essential services next year."