East Northants Council's finance chief unsure whether Government's coronavirus cash is enough

Glenn Hammons delivered his verdict at the first ever virtual meeting of East Northants Council last night

By Sarah Ward
Thursday, 7th May 2020, 3:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th May 2020, 3:23 pm
Glenn Hammons thinks the biggest impact of Covid-19 on the council will be due to lost income.
Glenn Hammons thinks the biggest impact of Covid-19 on the council will be due to lost income.

East Northamptonshire Council’s chief finance officer says it is unclear whether the government cash given to help it through the crisis will be enough.

Glenn Hammons delivered the news in the first ever virtual meeting of the council last night (May 6) and also warned the biggest impact on the authority will not be due to increased costs but more likely due to a drop in income if the local economy falters in the wake of the lockdown.

So far the Government has given ENC just under £1m as part of a £3.2bn national fund to help local authorities deliver extra services to help communities ride out the effects of the pandemic and the enforced lockdown.

Mr Hammons said current increased costs had been due to providing things such as personal protective equipment and providing new IT equipment so staff can work from home. He said income losses that already had an immediate impact were in the leisure sector.

He warned that if the local economy takes a big hit from Covid 19 there could be long term effects for the local authorities finances on the amounts they collect in council tax payments and business rates.

In a verbal report spelling out how Covid-19 has to date affected the local authority Mr Hammons said: “There is no doubt that Covid-19 is having an impact on council finances.

Yes, government has provided support, although it is unclear whether it will be sufficient. If it is not sufficient then there will be financial implications for the council’s budget.

He added: “We are expecting the pressures not to be on our costs but on our income. However these are currently very hard to predict and will be very much driven by the economy of the district and how it is affected over the next months and even coming years.”

Like all councils across the country ENC has been given extra funding to hand out to businesses and individuals to help them through the lockdown.

The borough and district authorities have been asked to administer the grants to small businesses and Glen Hammons reported that ENC had so far paid out eighty per cent of the £17.9m allocated to it by Government in business grants. He said the council had carried out due diligence and checked claims to whittle out fraud attempts.

It had also given out £305,000 in hardship payments to those in receipt of council tax support with the remaining £135,000 to be handed out. 770 additional people in the district have also claimed universal credit due to the pandemic.

The officer was thanked by a number of councillors for the efforts of his team in processing payments and also providing an overview of where the pandemic could leave the council.

Leader Steven North also said one of the key risks now was how the pandemic costs across the four councils in the area and the county council could hit the start up funds available to the new North Northants unitary.

The council is due to be set up next April but there have already been calls for it to be postponed as officers’ time is now diverted to Covid-19 efforts.