Forest council forced to produce emergency budget in wake of coronavirus losses

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nfdc emergency budget
New Forest District Council lost more than £2m income thanks to the lockdown

FINANCE chiefs at New Forest District Council have produced an emergency budget for 2020/21 and said they are “confident” it can withstand coronavirus pandemic pressures.

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They were forced to come up with a revised balance sheet after the authority lost more than £2m worth of income, and incurred costs in excess of £300,000 due to Covid-19 and the lockdown. The latest cabinet meeting heard it will be unveiled for scrutiny in September.

While the full details were not available, a report to the top table said it is set to include £212,000 worth of savings found in the district council’s asset maintenance budget.

A review of this year’s capital programme was under way, the meeting heard, but members were minded to plough ahead with the £5m Hardley Depot scheme. They intend to move the project to tender stage later this year before ultimately deciding whether to award a contract.

It also revealed the council will adjust the timings of some of its scheduled reserve transfers to help rebalance the budget, the value of withheld posts across the authority was valued at £433,000, and ongoing work to identify savings was being overseen by the service accountancy team.

The report added the government had so far provided three tranches of help: an initial £500m support package, funding for a majority of irrecoverable income losses from sales, fees and charges and the ability to spread any collection fund deficits over three years.

There is also set to be a further spending review, the report said, which could address how to make up shortfalls from lost council tax revenues.

Cabinet member for finance, Cllr Jeremy Heron, added: “With the additional financial support proposed by central government and the work of officers and members of the task-and-finish group I am confident that we can now deliver a fully funded revised budget for 2020/21.

“Our next challenge is to revise the medium-term financial plan to take into account the longer-term financial implications of Covid-19,” Cllr Heron continued.

“Regrettably the financial ramifications of this pandemic will continue to impact on all councils over the coming years but, as stated in previous reports, NFDC is well placed to meet the challenge.”

Leader Cllr Barry Rickman said it had “truly been a major achievement to get things back to some sort of normality” and he was “pleased” with the council’s crisis response. The next stage will see some staff return to working at its Appletree Court base over the coming weeks.

But Cllr Rickman also sounded a note of caution: “We must remember within cabinet that Covid-19 has not gone away; we must be vigilant with the changes that have been made to our lifestyles. The pause in the lockdown is a reminder of the new normal that is going to be with us for a while.”

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