Coronavirus: Redbridge Council with £45m “black hole”
PUBLISHED: 12:00 24 June 2020
The leader of Redbridge Council has said a £45m “black hole” the government has failed to pay back for responding to the coronavirus pandemic will put vital services at risk.
Cllr Jas Athwal hit out at MPs for failing to keep their promise to compensate councils after only paying back £15.7 of the £60m that was spent to keep residents safe during the pandemic.
Without the payment, services like parks, waste collections and even street lighting are at risk in the next financial year.
Cllr Athwal said the government promised full compensation before the lockdown but has accused them of pulling a “U-turn” by leaving it with a £45m financial black hole.
He is calling on residents and businesses to sign a petition lobbying the government to pay the money back.
He said: “The majority of our expenditure goes towards supporting the most vulnerable in our local community – it is these people that the government are putting at risk by going back on their word.
“We want everyone in the borough to support us – without these funds, the services our residents and businesses value most, social care, libraries, household waste services and leisure facilities, will all be at risk.”
Yesterday (Tuesday, June 23) the council leader and chief executive Andy Donald sent a letter to local government secretary MP Robert Jenrick urging him to pay back the council for the shortfall, which amounts to 35pc of the entire council tax revenue for the year and almost the entire net revenue budget for all council services (excluding social care).
But the leader of the Conservative Group said that without a full accounting of the council’s finances, she couldn’t support a petition pressuring the government to pay the money back.
Cllr Linda Huggett said she refused to sign the letter, calling it “politically motivated” and that the council’s true financial position had not been fully disclosed.
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She questioned the shortfall, asking: “How much is due to the coronavirus and how much is down to the ongoing mismanagement of taxpayers’ money?”
On March 16, Mr Jenrick told 300 councils: “My absolute priority is to ensure [you] are well placed to respond to coronavirus and protect vital services, including social care. The government will provide whatever funding is needed for councils to get through this and come out the other side.”
An Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “We’ve given councils an unprecedented package of support, including £3.2 billion emergency funding, to tackle the pressures they have told us they’re facing, and on June 15 we announced we are working on a comprehensive plan to ensure councils’ financial sustainability over the coming year.
“We will continue to work closely with councils as they support their communities through this national emergency.”
Cllr Athwal said: “We took the government at their word and delivered medication to the vulnerable, food to children who would normally be dependent on school dinners and we found and paid for essential PPE to keep staff and patients in care homes safe.”
The council also housed 157 rough sleepers, developed an online health and wellbeing service, and provided new services to keep young people at risk safe.
Cllr Athwal said it was “outrageous” the goverment was withholding almost the entire, annual budget for council services after it put in place essential services to protect residents during the Covid-19 crisis.
Cllr Kam Rai, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance and resources, first sounded the alarm of the shortfall at the end of April.
He said: “We manage our budget effectively – every pound counts in our service delivery and ambitions for our residents.
“It is wrong that the government is forcing local people into a position where the services that matter most to our residents could be detrimentally affected because they are reneging on a promise to repay the services we delivered during a time of national crisis.”
To sign the petition visit: https://www.redbridge.gov.uk/about-the-council/stronger-together
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