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Warning that Walsall Council service cuts could be deep without funding to cover coronavirus hit

By Gurdip Thandi | Walsall | Coronavirus | Published:

Fears have been raised that council services for Walsall's residents could take an ‘enormous’ hit if the Government fails to cover costs incurred due to the coronavirus crisis.

Walsall Council

Walsall Council leader Mike Bird said he continues to push Whitehall to honour pledges made by the Prime Minister in the early days of lockdown that local authorities will be recompensed pound for pound for all coronavirus-related expenditure having to be made.

And, at a scrutiny committee meeting on Tuesday, he was backed by opposition Labour group leader Aftab Nawaz and Liberal Democrat group boss Ian Shires who said they would support his efforts.

Councillor Bird painted a bleak picture of the financial impact the pandemic has had on the authority’s budgets.

More Covid-19 coverage:

Walsall has been allocated almost £26 million in grants to support the Covid response as well as £54 million in business relief.

It was also confirmed that Walsall’s share of £500 million announced by the Government on July 2 would be £2.94 million.

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But as well as Covid costs such as supplying PPE, stumping up Walsall’s share of the temporary mortuary at Birmingham Airport, and the council has been hit with a loss of income from services such as leisure centres which had to be closed during lockdown.

The authority is currently looking at a budget deficit of £11 million with worst-case scenarios suggesting that could rise to £23 million.

Significant

Councillor Bird said, that like other council leaders in the region, he had spoken directly to Local Government minister Robert Jenrick, saying he’d like them to honour the commitment to repatriate every penny.

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He said: “Whilst funding received to date is welcome, it is still not enough.

“Should Government not fully compensate us for the losses, we’d need to make some potentially significant decisions which will impact on services this year and next in order to balance the books.

“In these uncharted waters, they’ve made a good fist of it but there is still a long way to go for us to get the funding to fill that gap.

“It is a bleak picture. We didn’t ask for this but we are now lobbying hard to Government to make sure that not only our normal grants come forward but there is recognition we expect to be repatriated pound for pound for the expenditure we’ve seen.

“It’s not a lost cause, certainly not with me. I’m not one of those people who sits down and listens to the Government and do as I’m told. Far from it.”

Councillor Nawaz said: “If the Government doesn’t give us penny for penny what we spent then it is the people of Walsall that are going to suffer.

“All of us want Walsall to have the money it needs to provide the services that our staff provide very well.

“The cuts will have to be enormous if that money isn’t provided and we all need to be aware of that.

“Councillor Bird will have our support in chasing the Government trying to get the money out of them.”

And Councillor Shires added: “I respect the fact it is really difficult and there are some difficult decisions we’re going to have to make in the near future as a council.

“I do know that Councillor Bird will do all he can to screw as much as he can from the Government to make sure we don’t lose out.”

Gurdip Thandi

By Gurdip Thandi
@Gurdo

Local Democracy Reporter covering Walsall.

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