Northamptonshire County council doesn’t yet have ‘a proper handle’ on how coronavirus will impact its finances

Councillor Malcolm Longley (centre) is the cabinet member for finance at Northamptonshire County CouncilCouncillor Malcolm Longley (centre) is the cabinet member for finance at Northamptonshire County Council
Councillor Malcolm Longley (centre) is the cabinet member for finance at Northamptonshire County Council | jpimedia
It’s too early to tell what financial impact the coronavirus will have on Northamptonshire County Council’s finances – according to the councillor in charge of the budget.

Cabinet member for finance Councillor Malcolm Longley says that the authority has not yet got a ‘proper handle’ on how the pandemic may hit it, and says it will take a couple of months to start to figure it out.

Speaking at the cabinet’s first virtual meeting on Tuesday (April 14), Councillor Longley said: “I think the events have somewhat overtaken us, it’s fair to say. You may recall that back in February, which seems an awfully long time ago, we were talking about this year and last year and the budget to come. We were all feeling pretty good about it all. But I did say that the game isn’t over until it’s over. I had no idea one month later we would be where we are now.

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“I’m not going to say anything about figures on the year that we’re now in [2020/21] because frankly we haven’t got a proper handle on them yet, so any questions on what the numbers are we won’t be dealing with them today. It’s going to be a couple of months before we get a proper feel for it in my opinion.

“But we’re running the figures as best as we can on a business as usual basis also taking into account and monitoring very closely any additional costs associated with this virus.”

The goverment announced on March 30 that it would be giving councils across the country a £1.6 billion emergency handout, with Northamptonshire County Council getting £17.2 million to help cover additional pressures created by the coronavirus crisis.

Labour councillor Mick Scrimshaw, the chairman of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee, was keen to find out whether any more financial assistance was likely to come from Westminster.

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He said: “Clearly the elephant in the room is the current national crisis and presumably that will have an impact on this year’s accounts as well as adding financial pressure for some time to come.

“It [the £17 million] is probably still going to be a drop in the ocean compared to the extra costs Northamptonshire is going to have to face. So can I ask what kind of assurance NCC has received so far about any more funding from the Government? When can we expect payments and can we expect any more?

“Every council in the country is going to have financial difficulties but because of the unique financial position that NCC is in we don’t have the financial resilience nor the reserves that might normally be expected. We simply won’t be able to deal with the current crisis although admittedly it’s still too early to know what the cost will be in both financial terms and on peoples’ lives.”

Responding to Councillor Scrimshaw, the Conservative council leader Matt Golby said the county had already received the £17 million sum from the Government.

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He said: “This is going to have a significant impact on the council. We have already received £17 million the week after the Government made the announcement about the extra funding. I think there will be a call for more but all the channels available to us into the different departments are being used to make sure the Government hear about the call and the need for extra funding and resources to deal with the virus.

“Perhaps at another cabinet meeting next month or after we will have a specific item relating to the impact of the coronavirus and the effect on our finances and services.”