Angus Council counts the cost of COVID-19

Angus Council counts the cost of COVID-19

Angus councillors will be asked to agree a raft of papers this week which describe the measures taken by the local authority in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the harsh economic impacts that are now emerging as it moves through the recovery phases.

At their meeting, the full Angus Council will hear that the pandemic has also resulted in significant reductions in income for the council as well as substantial additional costs, rendering the budget that was agreed in February this year in need of a major re-cast.

They will consider, amongst other council business, the revised budgets and the updated council and workforce plans which provide the strategy to support Angus citizens through the recovery phases while building towards a changing but optimistic future.

In addition, papers will show the unanticipated financial realities that coronavirus has had on ANGUSalive, as well as Angus Health & Social Care Partnership (AHSCP) and Tayside Contracts, all of which have their economic well-being aligned with Angus Council.

Ronnie Proctor, provost councillor, said: “This appalling pandemic has pervaded every corner of our society and I fear its repercussions will be felt for some time to come.

“Many citizens came forward through our third sector partners such as Voluntary Action Angus and worked tirelessly alongside our staff to help support communities during the worst period of lockdown. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude and we must ensure that we continue to have support in place for those who need it, when they need it. However, there is no doubt that the council faces some tough decisions and stark choices in the future.”

Council finances must be adjusted to maintain a balanced position and continue to support front-line service provision – no easy task given that the pandemic response and contingency measures are on-going and while the future threat posed by coronavirus remains unknown.

In what is an incredibly fast-moving environment, the revised budget will now have flexibility built-in so adjustments can be made quickly where changes in circumstances dictate.

Government funding provision since lockdown started has been significant. While more funding may yet be forthcoming, that cannot be relied upon and there is a hole of £3.7 million in the 20-21 revenue budget that requires to be filled.

This is being addressed with a number of measures being explored. These include an improved grant settlement and other adjustments, using uncommitted reserves, a change to the funding of teacher/school support staff and flexibility on previously ring-fenced funding for early years expansion which can be repurposed.

These measures amount to £4.601m, which officers recommend for use to bring the 2020-21 revenue budget back into balance. The identified surplus of £901,000 will be used as a new contingency against further financial impacts caused by COVID-19.

Council Tax for 2020-21 will not be affected by any adjustments made.

Cllr Macmillan Douglas, deputy leader and finance convenor, added: “Officers have responded magnificently to help manage the pandemic. Few of the measures could have been implemented so well if the finances of Angus Council had not been so strong. The work done by the officers and the Administration over the last 3 and a half years to improve the efficiency of the Council created the headroom which has allowed us the manage the pandemic and maintain services for the citizens of Angus.”

With major revisions to the council’s Change Programme being reported to the policy and resources committee on September 1 (report 208/20), the council said it is clear that it and its partners face difficult choices and need creative solutions to maintain service levels in the future. 

AHSCP, jointly funded by Angus Council and NHS Tayside, has incurred significant additional costs as a result of the pandemic which may in due course impact on its contribution to the Change programme. However, it will not feature in any current budget revisions due to the continued commitment of the government to provide additional finance to HSCPs.

ANGUSalive, the arm’s length external organisation (ALEO) responsible for delivering sports, leisure and culture in Angus has also been severely impacted by coronavirus, in common with all the other ALEOs across the UK.

While the council provides a £3.901m (report 81/20) management fee, this only represents around 45% of overall operating costs, with the remaining 55% coming from income generated, predominately (88%) from the Sport and Leisure area of the business, which has been largely closed since March as a result of lockdown.

Despite a prudent fiscal approach since its creation on December 2015 which has seen the Trust build up reserves of £1.5m and contribute £600k to the council’s Change Programme, it now needs the council to approve a support package including a radical redesign of services to secure its future.

Discussions are ongoing between the Scottish Government and COSLA regarding support for councils and their culture and leisure trusts for lost income due the pandemic.

Angus Council and ANGUSalive senior management teams have been working together to assess the financial implications for the 2020/21 financial year and the Council and ANGUSalive continue to work together to ensure the financial sustainability of the Trust for the immediate and long-term future.

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