By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
The coronavirus crisis could cost Kent County Council (KCC) around £200million, nearly £70m more than originally forecast, it has emerged.
KCC’s cabinet member for finance, Cllr Peter Oakford (Con), has warned his colleagues that the hole in County Hall’s budget could be “enormous”.
The deputy leader’s comments came two days ago during KCC’s governance and audit virtual briefing where the true scale of the pandemic cost was revealed to around 20 councillors and officers.
Cllr Oakford told committee members: “There are areas where people are saying ‘we need money, can you help us’ and we are having to say no.”
A letter will be sent to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s office by KCC’s leader Roger Gough (Con) and Cllr Oakford to make him aware of the worrying situation.
The council’s original forecast two weeks ago was around £130m. The authority has received around £67m of Government grant funding, but it remains unclear whether councils across England will be given more cash in the near future.
Fears concerning the finances were expressed during the latest briefing on Wednesday, with £30m of savings planned for the next 12 months likely to be scrapped.
In addition, Cllr Oakford said the council could face up to £30million loss of tax revenue while KCC has yet to start spending money on the recovery.
During the virtual meeting, the Tunbridge Wells county councillor said: “We could be spending £200m and at the moment we have got about £69m to £70m back from Government. The hole could be enormous.”
KCC’s governance and audit committee was told on Wednesday that the council’s budget wil have to be revised with input expected from the Conservative cabinet and opposition Liberal Democrat and Labour leaders.
This would have to be ratified by KCC’s 81 members during a full council meeting.
KCC’s finance cabinet member said: “We are being very cautious as to where that money is being spent. We are concerned whether the Government will cover all the costs that we have laid out.”
The county council has already committed around £5million towards the bulk purchases of personal protective equipment (PPE), £11m on temporary mortuary facilities and extra funding towards adult social care services.
Cllr Oakford added: “There are so many unknowns and we really don’t know where we are going to end up. I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball to see where we will be in two to three months’ time.”
KCC’s corporate director of finance, Zena Cooke, has held “almost daily” talks with Cllr Oakford over the alarming situation. Speaking during the virtual meeting, she said: “We are shy of about half the money we need.”
The corporate director revealed that the council currently has sufficient funds to manage the next 12 months, but is worried about the potential effects of a second wave or drawn out recovery.
She added: “The potential for still further increased costs if there is a second peak or the recovery takes longer…. would mean we have to review our budget for this and next year.”