A report has highlighted that Bedford Borough Council is facing a financial gap of between £22 and £36 million as the impact of Covid-19 causes significant pressure on services.
At a meeting on Wednesday 16 September, the Council’s Executive discussed the report’s findings and the financial impact this will have over the next five years.
The impact of COVID-19 has affected services across the Council, placing the council under unprecedented pressure in working to deliver care for the vulnerable, elderly and shielded.
The council’s finances for 2020/21 were discussed at the meeting of the Executive. The report forecasts extra costs and lost income of £12.7m in this year’s Budget. This is on top of £1.3m extra spent in 2019/20 at the start of the outbreak.
To date, the Government has given £8.9m in grant funding to the Council to cover the financial impact of coronavirus. The remaining £3.8m gap this year is to be addressed by reprioritising spending and reserves that will be moved away from their original purposes.
Looking ahead to 2021/22, the Council is currently forecasting a gap of £21.8m, as the impact on Council Tax and Business Rates does not affect the current year but will affect future years.
The Council has said that the funding gap will be kept under review during the year as there remains a large number of uncertainties that depend upon the impact of COVID-19 over coming months and the economic fallout.
Cllr Michael Headley, Portfolio Holder for Finance said, “Over the last 10 years, throughout the period of austerity, the Council has been finding ways to become more efficient and make savings.
“However, the financial impact of COVID-19 goes way beyond what we have previously had to look at.
“Add to that the unknown potential impact of Brexit and no certainty on future grants from the government, and all councils are finding themselves in a period of greater uncertainty than I’ve ever known before.
“We are expecting difficult decisions ahead and with so much still unknown about the course that the coronavirus pandemic will take and the final impact it will have on the economy, we will be keeping a very close eye on the unfolding funding shortfall and doing our best to minimise the impact on local services.”
Leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr Graeme Coombes said, “Though we appreciate these are difficult financial times for all, it is still disappointing to read that Bedford Council is forecasting a shortfall of nearly £22m next year.
“We welcome the fact that Government has provided £8.9m of grant funding to help alleviate some of the biggest challenges that the Council is facing, as well as providing large grants to the Council for town centre improvements and to help rough sleepers.
“This issue will not go away soon and like any family managing its household budget, the Mayor needs to be continually on the lookout for reasonable cost savings that can be made and for sources of revenue that can be tapped into to improve the financial situation.
“He needs to make Bedford Borough more pro-business and enterprise friendly as it is only with a dynamic and booming local economy that we can turn things around and improve the Borough’s financial picture.”
The report on the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy can be found on the Council’s website.