County council requests emergency funds from government
Cambridgeshire County Council has contacted the government “regarding potential emergency support for next year,” but its budget this year is now “relatively balanced”.
The pandemic has had a big impact on councils’ finances across the country, and Cambridgeshire County Council has said the cost has been around £65 million.
But extra resources have also been provided to councils, including Cambridgeshire, from central government and the NHS.
In June the county council was forecasting a possible £13 million budget shortfall this year, but that has now dropped to £800,000 or less, despite the big increases in expenditure, lost income and missed savings targets adding up to £65 million.
A council report shows its financial position this year has “significantly improved” compared with estimates made earlier in the pandemic, and speaking at the council’s general purposes committee on Tuesday (October 20), its head of finance, Tom Kelly, said its financial position this year is now “relatively balanced”.
The leader of the council, Conservative councillor Steve Count, said it is seeing “significant swings” in its finances as the situation changes and central government announces new funding over time. “We can only put our very best estimates forward” he said, adding they are subject to “major fluctuations”.
The council has now begun working on its budget for next year, which needs to be completed in February.
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The council’s current forecasts for a shortfall next year range from £30 million to £80 million. Before the pandemic hit, the council was forecasting a need to make savings of £4.2 million on a £650 million budget for 2021/22. Between the new wide-ranging forecasts, it says £40 million is the “prudent” assumption for now.
Liberal Democrat Lorna Dupre told the meeting she was “somewhat astonished” that the council’s report on the potential budget challenges next year made no mention of Brexit.
The council’s chief financial officer, Chris Malyon, told the committee that when the council agreed its budget last year “the council was in a relatively good place financially, probably better than it had been for many, many years”.
Now, he said, “it is unlikely that the council will be able to set a balanced budget for the financial year 2021/22 without further tax increases, significant service reductions, significant use of reserves, or government intervention. The most likely outcome is of course that there probably will be a mixture of all of those elements.”
He said there will be “a plethora of councils seeking emergency support for next year, particularly those, like Cambridgeshire, that are not carrying significant un-earmarked reserves on their balance sheet”.
And he said officers from the council have already contacted the government in order to start a dialogue “regarding potential emergency support for next year”.
“We face a challenge that is beyond our control, and the implications of which could simply make the council unsustainable without government help,” he said.
The council put out a press release addressing the issue last week, making the case that its finances had been in good shape prior to the pandemic, and calling on the government to take “decisive action” to help, warning the council may need to take “drastic” measures if further support is not provided.
Councillor Steve Count said: “Throughout the ongoing pandemic the attitude of our workforce has been one of dedication with a fantastic ability to rise to a challenge.
“When the Government and our residents needed us, we stood up and delivered.
“But in a plain message that must, and I believe will be heard, we now need government to acknowledge what it needs to do to allow us to continue to deliver good quality services to our residents.”