‘Bleak future’ for council as funding fears mount

WARRINGTON Borough Council risks not being able to set a balanced budget next year – if the Government fails to reimburse it fully for coronavirus costs.

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By Aran Dhillon, Local Democracy Reporter www.warringtonguardian.co.uk 2-3 minutes

It was allocated around £11.1 million out of the Government’s emergency £3.2 billion for local authorities.

However, the Labour-run authority expects costs and loss of income due to Covid-19 to total around £51.5 million.

The council’s cabinet noted the financial risks facing the town at its virtual meeting on Monday.

Deputy leader Cllr Cathy Mitchell said: “There are obviously risks to the setting of the budget for the next financial year.

“The full impact of Covid is not yet known and will be assessed in more detail in July’s cabinet report.

“Much of it will depend on if, when and how the Government responds to the funding gap which is being faced by local councils all across the country.”

Leader Cllr Russ Bowden also expressed fresh fears over the situation.

He said: “It is not just about increasing costs, it is also the impact that It is having on traditional sources of income, not least which is obviously business rates.

“The council faces a very bleak future, I think, as do councils across the country, if the Government doesn’t meet and match its word and commitment it gave to councils back in March.”

Last month, the Government unveiled plans to provide thousands of long-term, safe homes for vulnerable rough sleepers taken off the streets during the pandemic.

Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, said that by accelerating plans for the £381 million announced for rough sleeping services in the budget – now extended to £433 million – that the funding will ensure that 6,000 new housing units will be put into the system, with 3,300 of these becoming available in the next 12 months.

On Monday, Mr Jenrick confirmed the Government was publishing new guidance for its £3.6 billion towns fund.

In a tweet, the Tory politician added: “My department is leading efforts to revitalise our local economies, with a collective determination to realise Britain’s enormous potential.”