Coronavirus: COVID-19 grants help mask continuing budget pressures
Shropshire Council has ended the latest financial year in budget, recording an underspend on its £575m gross operating budget.
The council’s end of year figures show that at the end of March 2021 it recorded a £764,000 surplus (£655,000 against its controllable budget – equivalent to 0.11% of its overall gross budget).
During the year, despite the pressure of the pandemic, the council made savings of almost £11.7 million, while also dealing with the pandemic.
The past year has seen the council play a central role in Shropshire’s response to coronavirus, and this cost the council around £11 million in extra costs such as additional social care and homelessness support as result of the three Lockdowns.
It has also seen income for some of its services including Theatre Severn, catering and parking, reduce by around £10.4 million during the pandemic.
During the year the council has also distributed nearly £131 million to more than 9,000 county businesses affected by the pandemic through national and local discretionary grant schemes.
There are, however, likely to be further costs from the pandemic still to come, because as restrictions ease, demand for many of its services, for example for social care and demands on benefit services, are expected to increase.
Also, as demand for some services reduced during Lockdowns, the council diverted staff and resources to other initiatives to help the community, such as the provision of Shropshire’s two main mass vaccination sites in Ludlow and Shrewsbury, and staffing new support services to help people affected by the pandemic.
However, an end of year finance report which will go before the council’s Cabinet on Wednesday 30 June 2021 highlights that, while the council ended the year in budget, in the new financial year it faces a £7 million of undelivered savings from the £18.7 million savings target from 20/21.
Gwilym Butler, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for resources, said:
“The council has done a huge amount of work to support the community during the pandemic. Despite all the challenges the last year has thrown at us, we have ended the year in budget. A huge thank you must go to all the council staff who have made this possible through their commitment and hard work.
“However, our budget outlook has been masked by some of the consequences of the pandemic. Yes, we have seen very welcome extra Government support for the council and businesses, but unsurprisingly this money is “one-off” and not built into our budgets.
“Like many other councils, the fundamental budget challenges remain as they were before the pandemic. Despite us making very positive progress and achieving almost £12 million of our planned savings last year, an ongoing budget pressure remains of around £7 million from undelivered savings.
“As the delay in the easing of the third Lockdown has shown, the situation is still very fluid, but we must now look again at how we can address this shortfall while meeting our priorities, supporting Shropshire people and our communities to be as healthy as possible, and building a healthy economy, and we will be working with officers to find ways to tackle this and minimise impact for Shropshire’s residents.
“With the same rigorous approach we will be doing everything we can to find the savings we need.”