Council counts cost of Covid-19

Report by Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

Waltham Forest Council expects to be “fully reimbursed” by the government as its coronavirus losses reach £20million.

Council leader Clare Coghill said the local authority had been “given assurances” by the government and that it was vital they “follow through on the commitment”. The council has spent extra money on supporting vulnerable residents and taking rough sleepers off the street, while receiving less income from council tax, business rates and leisure centres.

Clare Coghill
Waltham Forest Council leader Clare Coghill

A report presented to an online meeting of the cabinet last week estimated the losses could eventually reach £40m, although it would depend on the length of the lockdown. Council leader Clare Coghill said: “We were given assurances by government that we would be fully reimbursed for costs for this crisis. We took decisions on this basis and have worked incredibly hard to maintain critical services whilst supporting vulnerable residents and businesses.

“If lockdown measures continue for twelve weeks the full impact on our finances could be up to £40m, roughly 10% of our planned budget for this year. This is in line with the funding pressures councils across the country are reporting.

“Local councils will have a key role in rebuilding our local economy and providing services to help residents adapt to the changes Covid-19 is bringing to our society. The funding we’ve received from government so far is welcome but it’s vital they follow through on the commitment to give councils the resources we need to meet the challenges we all face as a result of this pandemic.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March the council’s expenditure has increased by £5.9m, while it has lost £13.7m in income. It received £7.5m as part of a government support package, while a further pot of money is expected to be allocated in May.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government did not confirm whether councils had been promised full reimbursement. They said: “The secretary of state has announced £3.2billion of funding for councils to support their response to the pandemic.

“This new funding will support them through immediate pressures faced by councils to respond to coronavirus and protect vital services.”