Risk levels soar for Stafford Borough Council because of coronavirus
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on issues like finances and the local economy has seen the number of "major risks" associated with Stafford Borough Council quadruple from one to four.
The authority is currently facing a £2.2 million “black hole” despite receiving £1.6m financial support from the Government towards meeting increased costs during the pandemic, a cabinet meeting heard on Thursday.
In contrast, the council ended the 2019/20 financial year in March “better than expected”, the meeting was told.
Councillor Mike Smith, cabinet member for finance, said: “The pandemic had only just started then, therefore it didn’t have a large impact on the figures for last year – unlike what’s happening in the current year.
“The outcome was better than expected – two portfolios were under budget and three over budget, resulting in £58,000 to the good. Much better than expected is the income from business rates.”
Looking at the latest council risk position however, Councillor Smith said: “This has changed substantially from when we last saw it, due entirely to the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has had a major effect on the operations of this council. There are a lot of unknowns.
'Four major risks'
“There are now four major risks at red, as opposed to only one prior to the pandemic. The four major risks are a possible lack of finance; the impact on the local economy; our plans for growth; and the viability of the main contractors and staffing levels – have we got enough staff to deliver the service?
“As far as finance is concerned there are still many unknowns. There is an un-estimated cost of £3.8m due to the pandemic, with £1.4m received from the Government. This has now been increased to £1.6m but still leaves a black hole of £2.2m.”
Opposition group leader Councillor Aidan Godfrey said: “The Government promised at the beginning of this pandemic we would be given all the funds we needed to cope with the crisis. We’re nearly £2.5m adrift of where we should be.
“I sincerely hope Stafford Borough Council will be lobbying Government for that extra money as we do need it back. Otherwise the figures we will be looking at when setting budgets for next year will be skewed.
Council leader Councillor Patrick Farrington responded: “Lobbying has been going on intensely since the commitment to put resources into the pandemic and I regularly take part – as does our chief executive – in meetings involving leaders and chief executives from all over the country.
“Some of our staff have been working ridiculously long hours – I want to make this a public acknowledgement of the work they do, working through weekends and late on into the evenings.
“While we still have to consider how we might move forward with balanced budgets it is considered we are in a much better place than a number of local authorities are now. We are not in a position at this stage where other local authorities are.”
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