The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant new financial pressures for local authorities, Council Leader Willie Innes said today.
He was speaking following a recent report under East Lothian Council’s Emergency Recess Procedures, which provided information on the package of financial support currently provided from the Scottish Government to support the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as the emerging financial implications and pressures and the council’s response to date.
Councillor Innes said:
“Throughout the outbreak East Lothian Council has worked hard to maintain essential services as far possible while continuing to support our communities and vulnerable people. Our staff have carried out amazing work – as have the many volunteers throughout the county. I pay tribute and say ‘thank you’ to everyone for their hard work.
“We are fully supportive of the actions which have been taken to help suppress the virus and have been following and operating within the very important national guidance, which everyone has a duty to follow.
“But there can be no doubt that COVID-19 has had significant and in some cases devastating impact – on individuals, families, businesses and communities.
“We recognise it has been a difficult time for many and that’s why we recently launched a new leaflet, bringing together information on a wide range of welfare support and income advice to support residents struggling with their finances.
“Continuing to pay council rent or council tax is important and, with the welfare system having changed with some new supports available, we would encourage anyone concerned about their finances to get in touch with one of our teams or the many organisations that are available to help you for free and confidential support.
“East Lothian Council has not been immune from the scale and impact of COVID-19. For many years, like all local authorities, we have been operating in a very tough financial environment. COVID-19 will further impact on our financial position, with increased costs associated with the delivery of some services and – with lockdown life restricted – much reduced income.
“While additional government funding has been welcome, most of the £3.5 billion available nationally for deployment through local government relates to grants to support businesses and self-employed individuals – vital support to have in place – but only a small proportion of this will support the many other activities and consequences which are part of the wider operational response to COVID-19.
“The report from officers highlights that the financial reality of the cost to support COVID-related activities, and in particular the impact on the council’s wider income streams, is significant and by far in excess of the funding we have been provided with. The council’s Chief Finance Officer has indicated that current estimates suggest that purely for the period through until the end of June, the council would face a funding deficit of around £5 million.
“Without further and significant additional funding resources for councils, there will be some very difficult choices for councils to make.
“We must ensure that we continue to support our communities and deliver services within the resources which are available but at the same time, do all that we can to work with COSLA and the Scottish Government to ensure that our response and recovery actions are fully funded and not to the detriment of the core council services upon which our communities rely.”