'Long way to go' before Hartlepool can balance books as covid bites

Council chiefs in Hartlepool have reported Government funding has ensured the authority is on course to manage the financial impact of Covid-19 this year, but warned ‘there is still a long way to go’.

By Nic Marko
Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 5:00 am
A Covid-19 testing at the site of the former Jacksons Landing in Hartlepool. The pandemic has been taking its toll on budgets.
A Covid-19 testing at the site of the former Jacksons Landing in Hartlepool. The pandemic has been taking its toll on budgets.

Councillors on Hartlepool Borough Council Finance and Policy Committee heard the authority faces a much more positive position in relation to Covid-19 costs compared to earlier in the year.

Council officers noted Covid-19 has had an ‘unprecedented impact’ on society and local authorities faced ‘a lot of uncertainty’ in the early part of the year.

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Hartlepool Civic Centre

The Government has now made four Covid-19 funding announcements for local authorities, with the most recent being in October, which has provided £4.7billion of national funding and £9.325million for Hartlepool.

Additionally, the Government confirmed the detailed technical arrangements for providing grant funding to offset income losses for councils.

Chris Little, council director of resources and development, said the most recent funding announcement was ‘really helpful’ for Hartlepool, with the funding formula ‘more favourable’ than previous allocations.

He added the fourth tranche of funding, totalling £2.35million, eliminated the funding deficit for Covid-19 costs to date and provides a ‘contingency’ of £195,000 to meet any increased costs that may arise over the winter.

Mr Little said: “The funding we’ve received so far as definite grant from the Government, and what we expect to get from income fees and charges support, means that we’re nearly in balance with the estimated impact of Covid.

“We’re about £195,000 difference, which is to the positive at the moment, and effectively that’s a contingency.

“There’s still a long way to go between now and the end of the financial year and still a lot of factors could change because of Covid.”

Council reports ahead of the meeting noted the second national lockdown means there is an ‘increased risk’ these costs and income losses could increase in the current year.

They also added this may continue to the next financial year, while the Government has also indicated grant funding to offset income losses is set to end in March 2021.

Council officers noted it is envisaged many income streams will not recover to their pre-Covid levels until the end of 2021/22 and the timing of recovery remains uncertain.

They added this risk is reflected in the 2021/22 budget forecast as the council will have to manage the ongoing income shortfalls from its own resources.

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