West Sussex councils warn share of government money will only provide short-term help during pandemic

West Sussex's County Hall in Chichester

West Sussex councils have warned that their share of a £1.6bn pot of government money will only provide short-term help in dealing with the financial cost of Covid-19.

The county council will receive almost £16m in this second wave of funding, on top of the £20.5m received earlier this month.

Elsewhere, there will be £635k for Adur, £1.6m for Arun, £1.2m for Chichester, £1.1m for Crawley, £1.4m for Horsham, £1.49m for Mid Sussex, and £1.09m for Worthing.

While these figures are far higher than the first round of funding, there are fears it will still not be enough.

The county council predicted the cost of a three-month lockdown could be as high as £85m, with the implications being felt years down the line.

Jeremy Hunt, cabinet member for finance said:

“We welcome this additional funding from government which will support all the work we are doing to help our residents, particularly the most vulnerable in our communities.

“However, depending on how long the present measures are in place, it will not be enough to cover our predicted costs, so we will continue to work with government to ensure that further funding is released in due course.”

Once this latest funding has been handed out, Chichester District Council will have received £1.25m in total.

A spokesman said:

“While we welcome funding from the government, we are disappointed in the amount that we are due to receive.

“We need more funding if we are going to recover our losses in income and increases in expenditure.

“At the moment, we anticipate that the loss of income from our services will run into several million pounds. We plan to continue to lobby government for more funding.”

Arun District Council predicted an estimated loss of £2.4m in 2020/21 and received only £64k in the first round of funding.

A spokesman said the latest money would ‘merely serve as a down payment toward future losses that we will suffer’.

There was a bleak outlook from Crawley Borough Council.

While the £1.1m was more than expected, a spokesman said it would not cover the costs, which it estimated to be £2m.

Like all councils, Crawley has been losing income in areas such as car parks, planning services and Tilgate Nature Centre, while facing extra costs to help house the homeless and support those in most need.

The spokesman said:

“Not only do we have additional costs in the current year but it will impact on future years as well.

“There will be more people claiming council tax reduction so we will collect much less in council tax.

“In addition, we won’t be receiving as much in business rates in future years because of the impact on the air and retail industries.

“We only keep less than 5p in every £1 of business rates collected but the way the system works means we could see a loss of around £2m less per year in business rates income.”

Horsham District Council summed up where they and the other authorities have been and will be spending their money.

A spokesman said:

“The funding, when received, will be used to provide extra support to ensure that we can protect and save lives of our residents, especially supporting the most vulnerable in our local communities during the current pandemic.

“It will also be used to maintain vital frontline services such as preventing homelessness and providing financial support to local businesses.”

Judy Llewellyn-Burke, deputy leader of Mid Sussex District Council welcomed the fact that the work carried out by local councils was being recognised.

She too, though, warned that the money would not be enough.

She said:

“This funding allocation will help in the short-term to meet some of our rising expenses and cover some of the lost income we’re experiencing as a result of the outbreak but it is clearly not enough to fully fund the financial gap that is rapidly opening up.

“We will continue to work with other councils across the country, and the Local Government Association, to make the case for recognition of the full costs of coronavirus and to ensure we are able to continue providing a full range of services for our residents and businesses.”

Both Adur and Worthing councils said they would also lobby government to cover the full cost of the pandemic, which had left them with a combined shortfall of £1.8m.

Speaking about the latest grant, a spokesman said:

“This money will help us manage additional costs being borne, losses of significant income and will support us to continue operating core services but it must be recognised that the lockdown has caused a significant shortfall in the councils’ finances of a minimum of £1.8m.

“This is due to increased costs related to housing the homeless, administering new business rate reliefs and increased demand for benefits, providing emergency food parcels, and a fall in commercial revenues. 

“Money raised from council tax paid by residents contributes just 30 per cent of the total revenue needed to run services.”

(By Karen Dunn – Local Democracy Reporter)

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