Fears coronavirus could leave councils with multi-million pound funding gaps

PUBLISHED: 15:24 23 April 2020 | UPDATED: 15:46 23 April 2020

Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Norfolk County Council

Concerns are growing over the shortfall Norfolk and Suffolk’s councils could face after spending millions to supporting communities during the coronavirus pandemic - and how much they are getting back from the government.

A new distribution centre has been created in Norwich for food and PPE. Pic: Norfolk County Council.A new distribution centre has been created in Norwich for food and PPE. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Councils in the region have submitted forms to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which summarise the financial hit they have taken - and hope to benefit from share of a £1.6bn government pot.

Norfolk County Council has already spent more than the £26.9m the government initially gave County Hall to help with its response to the pandemic.

The council has been buying personal protection equipment (PPE), including hundreds of thousands of masks, aprons and gloves for its workers and care homes, while a distribution centre has been set up.

And Mr Jamieson said: “There are enormous pressures that we have still got and we’re definitely going to have spent more than that initial £26.9m.

“Assuming we get something like 75pc of what we got last time, we would be in a reasonable place to see it out, but that does depend on how long it goes on for.

“There has been an indication that the latest tranche is more likely to go to the districts. They are on the front-line and we understand that, but we would be disappointed if we didn’t get at least 75pc of what we got last time again.”

Mr Jamieson said the council’s responsibilities in terms of adult and children’s services would mean a large bill - and there would be a need to plug the funding gap.

He said: “We are right on it, in terms of PPE for care homes and getting more to them when they need it, while the next phase will be testing, which we are working out how we will do.

“My feeling has always been that the way local authorities are currently funded is not a sustainable model and we will need the government to help us.”

In a statement, Norfolk’s district, city and borough councils said: “Norfolk’s councils are at the centre of the multi-agency response, prioritising our critical community work and other essential services needed to support our residents and businesses during these unprecedented times.

“Direct response work so far has included welfare calls to the vulnerable, delivery of food parcels and medicine, shielding the homeless in temporary accommodation, business advice and administering business grants and other reliefs.

“At the moment, Norfolk districts are commencing work to consistently analyse and update their interim data and forecasts on financial impact, which will include both direct expenditure on the response and, of greater significance, loss of some normal income.

“The financial impact on councils of coronavirus will be significant and additional government funding is essential, but we look forward to finding out what our individual allocations will be.

“The picture is currently incomplete and will depend partly on different scenarios.”

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