‘Point of crisis’ warning amid fears extra cash will not plug council’s £18m coronavirus gap

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry - Credit: Archant

Fears have been raised that an announcement of extra cash is unlikely to cover the impact to Norfolk County Council’s coffers because of the cost of coping with coronavirus in the county.

The government has said it is making a further, unringfenced £500m available to local councils up and down the country to respond to spending pressures they are facing because of the virus and their response to it.

Norfolk County Council has a projected shortfall of more than £18m because of the costs of combating the virus and the lost income because of it.

The government had previously given County Hall £43m, but that has not covered the £62m cost pressures. The government has yet to announce how much each council will get from the latest £500m pot.

Andrew Proctor, who leads Conservative-controlled County Hall, welcomed the announcement of more money, but said it would not plug all the gaps.

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He said the government needs to step up with fair funding over the longer term - particularly around future funding of adult social care - where the council faces a £10m overspend.

Mr Proctor said: “The sheer scale of the funding problem affecting all layers of local government during the pandemic is well known and whilst we welcome the government’s announcement of additional funding, we all know this is not going to be enough to plug all the gaps. We will now await further details of our allocation.

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“The county council currently has a projected £18m plus shortfall, over and above previous COVID funding from the government, in terms of additional costs, loss of income and unachieved savings that have arisen as a result of the pandemic.

“And our future years’ budgets will be affected by council tax or business rates that aren’t being paid now and may well continue on that basis. So the problem is not going to go away.

“As I said this additional temporary funding boost is welcome. But that’s not the approach we need for the future. Due to the increased cost pressures facing all councils it’s sustained, fair funding over the long term and certainty around funding of adult social services that’s an absolute requirement.”

Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, said: “Enough hand wringing from MPs and council leaders. It really is time they showed some genuine anger.

“The government has had regular returns so knows exactly what additional costs and consequences councils are facing. “Wriggling around, paying out dribs and drabs that look good as a headline figure but go nowhere near meeting the gap when shared between councils just adds to the uncertainty.

“Rhetoric doesn’t pay the bills or help plan to meet the needs of Norfolk. Hard cash does and that what they promised, not another fudge.”

And Dan Roper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group, warned the council could be left “on the point of crisis”.

He said: “With a large older population Norfolk is one of the counties most in need of the long promised government reforms of council and social care funding.

“Continued delays by government could leave Norfolk County Council at a point of crisis, particularly as locally the Conservatives don’t seem to have a Plan B other than waiting for more government money.”

The council’s cabinet meets on Monday to discuss the impact of coronavirus on the council’s finances.

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