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Coronavirus pandemic blamed for £4.6m hole in Nottinghamshire County Council finances

Concerns are being raised after Nottinghamshire County Council revealed a £4.6m hole in its finances, writes Local Democracy Reporter Kit Sandeman.

The authority says the unfunded budget gap was caused by the coronavirus pandemic after the government support it has received so far was taken into account.

Opposition councillors have called the figures extremely worrying, but the council says plans are in place to make the cuts needed.

County Hall. (12697862)
County Hall. (12697862)

Like all councils, Nottinghamshire has faced covid-related budget pressure from a wide range of sources, including increased costs for items such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and decreased income.

The government has already provided some support to councils, but in Nottinghamshire this has fallen far short of the costs incurred.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the chancellor Rishi Sunak said the government would ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ with councils.

Labour councillors today said the council had put all its eggs in one basket by hoping to make savings from its super council plan, and had no plan B.

But senior councillor Richard Jackson said plans for savings were being worked on, and would be released in the coming months.

It is not yet known exactly how the Conservative-controlled council will fill the budget gap.

The growing budget concerns were addressed during a meeting on Monday of the finance and major contracts management committee, held virtually.

A report discussed at the committee shows the council anticipates the costs so far this financial year to be £46.7m. To date it has received £42.1m from the government.

In comparison, Nottingham City Council says its impact from covid is £78.4m, of which £39.8m in compensation has come from the government – a gap of £38.5m.

Ashfield Independent councillor Tom Hollis, who represents Sutton West, said: “Every kind of financial statement coming out of (Nottinghamshire County) council now is going to be worrying, unless we take some kind of decisive steps, which isn’t just saying ‘we want unitary (super council) why can’t we have unitary?”

“What is plan B? I don’t believe we have one but I sincerely hope we have.

“I may not agree with the choices you (the Conservatives) make, but I really hope you’ve got some choices or things up your sleeve that aren’t going to make this council’s finances crumble.

“But looking at this it’s extremely worrying.

Richard Jackson, chairman of the committee, said: “We do obviously have plans in place, you will see those as soon as it’s possible to bring those forward, and we’ll need to consult on them.

“Like every authority in the country and almost every business in the country the coronavirus has blown that (balanced budget) off course, but a lot of work is going on, and it’s thanks to the work that has been done over many years to put our finances on a sound footing that meant we were starting from the best possible position before this crisis.”

Mike Pringle, Labour’s finance spokesman, who represents Ollerton, said: “I’m at a loss as to why Councillor Jackson ­— knowing that any savings associated with unitarisation can only be achieved a minimum of five to seven years after the whole process has been undertaken ­— would offer it as a singular solution to the financial shortfall faced right now here in Nottinghamshire.

“Since local government reorganisation has been once again put on the government’s back-burner, I would like to know what Councillor Jackson’s proposals are for the short and medium term financial hole which we face in being able to deliver services to our residents over the next couple of years, not in seven years’ time.”

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