A £100 million emergency financial package has been agreed by senior councillors to support individuals, businesses and other organisations across Brighton and Hove through the coronavirus crisis.
The cost is likely to rise but officials and councillors said that they would do everything that they could – and try to recoup as much as possible form the government.
Brighton and Hove City Council has already received £8 million – last Thursday – to help with extra adult social care costs.
Some of the money will be used to help ease bed blocking so that hospital patients needing community care or nursing home places can be discharged more quickly.
And some will be spent putting up rough sleepers in places like the YHA in Brighton and bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) or hotels that would otherwise be closed during the lockdown.
A report to councillors said: “Grants to businesses will see the council receiving £82.8 million in early April that will flow out during April.”
Labour council leader Nancy Platts thanked council staff for working “flat out and around the clock to deliver vital services to our residents in difficult circumstances”.
Councillor Platts said:
“We are working hard to keep fundamental and critical services running, protecting our most vulnerable residents.
“The council already provides critical services to local businesses many of whom are now feeling economically fragile.
“We know that industries like hospitality are particularly feeling the impact of the latest measures and we are supporting these businesses and others.
“And the council is working hard to ensure small businesses benefit as soon as possible from a package of measures announced by the government to support small businesses through the period of disruption caused by Covid-19.”
She spoke as the council’s three-member Policy and Resources Urgency Sub-Committee agreed a wide-ranging package of measures aimed at keeping the council solvent and supporting the local economy.
Councillor Platts, with Green councillor David Gibson and Conservative councillor Joe Miller, approved plans to keep paying the council’s casual workers and those who were ill or self-isolating.
They encouraged officials to liaise with commercial tenants struggling to pay their rents and with partner organisations facing financial difficulty.
Finance chief Nigel Manvell briefed councillors during the “virtual” meeting and in a report said:
“The government restrictions on movement including social distancing and isolation are severely affecting the visitor economy but will also result in many events in the city being cancelled or curtailed.
“These may include such events as the Brighton Festival and Fringe, the Marathon, and so on.
“These events and the organisations that run them are often heavily reliant on visitor income and partner contributions to make them viable and it is possible that many events – and cultural and event venues – could be lost to the city for the foreseeable future if the organisations that run them cannot obtain support from either government sources, the Arts Council or other funding bodies.
“This may require support and intervention from the local authority if no other solutions present themselves and it is deemed important to the fabric and overall success and attractiveness of the city for residents and visitors to retain these organisations, events and venues as far as financially and practicably possible.
“The risks and issues in this sector are being considered by the (council’s) ‘economy and events cell’ which will report back on findings and options as soon as possible.
“In the interim, if any organisation presents in imminent danger of cash flow risk or insolvency, the executive director for the economy, environment and culture, in consultation with the chief finance officer, will use officer urgency powers to provide appropriate support and assistance.
“The executive director for the economy, environment and culture, in consultation with the chief finance officer and the executive director of housing, neighbourhoods and communities, will take all steps necessary to develop a process for identifying and supporting commercial tenants in council-owned properties who present in financial difficulty and bring a report to members where necessary or use officer urgency powers where more appropriate.”
Mr Manell’s report also said:
“There is no contractual obligation to pay casual staff if they are not required to work which includes where need has reduced as a result of the impact on services from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, where, in the immediate future, there is a reduction in work available because of the impact of covid-19 on a service, members are recommended to maintain payments to casual staff even if they cannot work.
“This should apply for 12 weeks from Monday 23 March 2020 as an immediate response pending review of government and national guidance.
“The council has established a process whereby staff who can be released from non-essential roles can volunteer to be deployed in other areas of the council to support the delivery of essential services during the pandemic phase.
“Staff will be paid in accordance with the pay for their substantive role or at the rate of the job they have been deployed to do in another service if this is higher.
“These effectively work on a similar basis to secondments.
“The committee is recommended to agree that, during the pandemic phase, where staff are off sick as a result of covid-19 related absence, their full pay will be maintained if they exhaust their usual entitlement to full occupational sick pay.”
The coronavirus crisis is posing a notable risk to the council’s own financial position and the initial £100 million emergency response represents a significant percentage of the council’s £935 million annual budget.
Some big-ticket projects look like being put on hold such although the Valley Gardens revamp and the Corn Exchange restoration will continue as planned.
Officials said that a rethink of the scheme to speed up the restoration of the Madeira Terraces was likely although an initial £7 million scheme could still go ahead.
Mr Manvell said that he would report back again soon on the fast-changing financial picture.