Southend Council losing millions each month amid lockdown

Southend Council is losing around £3million every month as it struggles to continue delivering services and deal the with coronavirus outbreak, a leading councillor has claimed.

Costs have risen as the council has to find cash to house more than 100 rough sleepers into hotels and pay for the rapidly increasing costs of adult and children’s social care, while income such as parking fees have dipped.

The council’s deputy leader, Councillor Ron Woodley, said the Government has helped cover some of the costs related to Covid-19 but the authority is still suffering monthly shortfalls of between £2.5million and £3million.

His comments come after the secretary of state for local government, Robert Jenrick, told a press briefing on Wednesday that the money already given to councils is “sufficient to meet the crisis”.

Mr Jenrick added that it was “too early to tell” if councils will need more support but “if further resources are required to meet the Covid-related costs we have asked councils to bear, then obviously we will take that into consideration in the future”.

Mr Woodley said the secretary of state is “talking out of his backside” as neither the Government nor the council can know how long the crisis will go on.

“We have been covered by the Government so far to an extent but even in Southend we are seeing £2.5million to £3million shortfalls per month for covering council services and the cost of coronavirus,” he said.

“We are seeing the Government initially stand up and say it will do this and that to protect services and put funding into councils to make sure that financially they can meet residents’ demands but then they realise exactly what they have committed themselves to and are trying to draw back on it.

“This slight backtracking means the council and the residents will be looking at having to pick up the costs of this – not all of them but a substantial amount of it.”

He explained the shortfall is the result of a range of different factors but among them is parking revenue which would usually bring in around £500,000 a month being cut to “nil” since the middle of March.

The council is also no longer getting income from fixed penalty notice fines.

Overall, the shortfall the council is seeing every month is the equivalent of around 40 per cent of the total yearly revenue from parking.

Mr Woodley said it is “too early” to discuss potential cuts to services as the Government has not confirmed whether funding will be stopped.

None of the council’s staff have been furloughed since the beginning of the crisis.

Full details of the impact the virus has had on the council is expected to be revealed in a cabinet meeting next month when there will be a financial review.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter