Coronavirus response hits council finances hard

PR2341/PS/MF - 08/03/2021

Mid Sussex District Council has approved the use of financial reserves over the medium-term to help plug a budget deficit caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Council met on Wednesday 3 March 2021 to approve its Corporate Plan and Budget for 2021/22.

The financial cost of supporting local communities through the coronavirus pandemic has been huge. Even with some support from the Government, the cost to Mid Sussex District Council will be £1.9 million during the 2020/21 financial year and Covid-19 will continue to have a significant impact on the Council’s finances over the coming years.

The closure of local leisure centres because of national and regional lockdown measures has been one of the most significant losses of income experienced by Mid Sussex District Council. For 2021/22, the Council has created a specific financial reserve of £500,000 to protect the long-term future of the leisure centres and to cover the costs associated with regularly closing and reopening them.

A Council Tax increase of 2.9%, £4.95 for an average Band D property, was also approved to balance the budget and protect council services in the short-term.

Councillor Jonathan Ash-Edwards, Leader of Mid Sussex District Council said:

“The coronavirus pandemic has transformed the way we all live our lives and the Council has been agile enough to adapt and meet the changing needs of our communities. We’ve worked on an unprecedented scale to establish new services, like the allocation of Business Support Grants and support for our vulnerable residents. We have been faced with an ever-changing picture, as lockdown measures are revised and updated, but we have managed to keep our existing services running, despite these constant changes and dramatically increased demands.

“However, the truth is that the last year has come at a great cost to our country, and indeed, we are still counting the cost as a council. Even after we have considered the considerable financial support the Government has provided, we will need to use £1.9 million from our General Reserve to cover the losses caused by Covid-19 this year. This is not a sustainable long-term position and, if we don’t take corrective action now, our reserves will reach a perilous position within the next four years.

“The Corporate Plan and Budget for 2021/22 sets out how we will start the critical task of rebuilding the Council’s finances after the impact of the pandemic. Our overriding priority is to support the recovery of our local economy, protecting local businesses and retaining local jobs.

“With so many people currently working from home, the importance of fast and stable digital connections has never been more obvious, and we will continue to expand our Gigabit capable Full Fibre network this year. We are currently rolling out 2,500 metres of Full Fibre every week and as we connect the District up like never before, there will be significant opportunities for local businesses to innovate and grow.

“We will be redesigning our Waste and Recycling service this year, introducing kerbside food waste collections, which is possibly the single biggest environmental benefit we can bring about as a District Council.

“Finally, supporting vulnerable people has never been more important and one of the most acute challenges facing our communities is the number of people who are sadly living in emergency accommodation. Over the next year, our single biggest capital investment will be in more Affordable and Temporary Accommodation to support our residents.

“It has been a tough year for everyone, but the national vaccination programme gives us hope for a better future. The latest NHS data shows that over 42,000 Mid Sussex residents have now had their first jab, which is excellent news.

“The planned reopening of our economy and the lifting of social restrictions over the next few months provides significant light at the end of the tunnel. We may have a long road ahead of us, but we will recover from the impact of Covid-19 and, as a Council, we will work hard to ensure Mid Sussex continues to be a great place to work and live.”