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West Suffolk Council hit with £8m income loss because of covid-19

Council bosses have given a sobering assessment of West Suffolk’s financial position, with its leader warning Boris Johnson must do ‘an awful lot more’ to support the authority.

The coronavirus crisis has had a ‘serious impact’ on the district’s budget, Cllr John Griffiths revealed at West Suffolk Council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday, when he urged the government to step in.

The direct cost of Covid-19 to the authority was £2.2 million and had only so far been given about £1.8 million by the Treasury.

West Suffolk House, the headquarters of West Suffolk Council. Picture by Mecha Morton
West Suffolk House, the headquarters of West Suffolk Council. Picture by Mecha Morton

As part of council bosses’ grim assessment last week, Cllr Griffiths said: “I am quite concerned those councils who are less successful and innovative and forward thinking as West Suffolk Council might get bailed out rather more than the successful council’s like West Suffolk.”

The Conservative councillor added: “I am sure the government will never refund anything like the costs or loss of income we are incurring but we need them to do an awful lot more, which they keep saying they will do, as we go forward.

“It’s as much as in their interest than anybody else to make sure we continue to do the amazing job we are, otherwise things would be an awful lot worse for them both politically and actually, more importantly, to get through this pandemic and come out on the other side with a decent recovery,” he warned.

Cllr John Griffiths. the Leader of West Suffolk Council
Cllr John Griffiths. the Leader of West Suffolk Council

Ian Gallin, the chief executive, told members the biggest financial impact on council accounts was the loss of income, and so far the council had taken a £8 million hit.

He said at the start of the month the Government announced it would compensate for some of the income after lobbying from the authority, but had issued a ‘labyrinthian formula’ council accountants were still working their way through and didn’t know how much or how significant the amount of cash was.

Cllr Simon Cole said: “Surely central government can afford the three or four or five million to make up the difference West Suffolk has had to make in order to get through this crisis.”

The councillor for Exning added that ‘it seems unfair to me we should have to lump that bill and not get help from central government to help meet it’.

Committee members were told the authority would be able to balance the books this year by dipping into council reserves.

Cllr Margaret Marks said while it was ‘encouraging’ the authority could balance its books for the year said she didn’t want the authority to be “compromised by central government because we have been prudent’.

Cllr Griffiths said they had been lobbying government about greater financial support. “We are not going to cry wolf, which is what some councils in the country are doing, saying we are going to go bankrupt if you don’t help us, and therefore we expect you to take care of us and it will be in your interests to do so otherwise it will be much more expensive going forward,” he added.

At the same meeting it was revealed there are now 47 households on the cusp of being made homeless in the district when the government ban on evictions ends.

Councillors heard the authority expects notices to be served on 47 households when the suspension of evictions ends on August 23.

There has also been a rise in the number of people in temporary or emergency accommodation, with 149 households in that type of housing compared with 83 in June last year.

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