COVID-19 outbreak could cost Welwyn Hatfield Council around £7million
PUBLISHED: 14:00 14 May 2020 | UPDATED: 14:00 14 May 2020
The financial impact of COVID-19 in Welwyn Hatfield could far out-last the medical impact, councillors have been warned.
According to the latest estimates, the coronavirus outbreak could cost Welwyn Hatfield Council around £7 million – significantly more than its £1.23 million share of government funding it has been allocated so far.
At a special meeting of the council on Wednesday, May 6, deputy leader of the council and executive member for resources Cllr Duncan Bell warned that the financial impact could be long-lasting.
“The final outcome depends on how long lockdown lasts, how quickly it is lifted and any government support forthcoming,” he told councillors.
“The problem is the financial and economic impact will far outlast the medical and lockdown effect.”
According to a report prepared for the special meeting of the council, Welwyn Hatfield is losing income from parking and from Campus West, as well as other fees and charges.
Cllr Bell says that it’s this lost income – including reductions in business rates and council tax – that could have the greatest impact.
The council is facing additional costs to maintain essential services through the COVID-19 outbreak and to offer additional support to vulnerable residents and businesses.
That work has already included the setting up of a temporary homeless shelter and the delivery of more than 400 food parcels.
It was also reported, staff have administered grants of millions of pounds for businesses and residents.
At the meeting, leader of the council Cllr Tony Kingsbury said the COVID-19 situation had been “unprecedented”.
He paid tribute to the NHS staff and key workers, in the borough and across the country.
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He also thanked staff at the council and businesses and residents for responding positively to this new way of life.
He said: “We all see every day the impact this pandemic continues to have on our community and businesses, as well as the council.
“It has been a challenging time but I am extremely proud of what everyone – our communities, businesses partners, staff and our councillors – have done and will continue to do.”
Acknowledging the financial pressures, Cllr Kingsbury said the council was now facing significant in-year pressures of almost £7 million.
And he said the allocation from government of £1.23m would not be enough to cover it.
Leader of the Labour group Cllr Kieran Thorpe said he had been proud of the council’s response in these “unprecedented times”.
But he said he was “very disappointed” at indications that central government seemed to be saying there would be no financial assistance to cover councils’ loss of income resulting from lock-down.
“They are content to use us to solve problems, and we are the right place to do that,” he said.
“But they don’t seem to be as concerned about the problems we face that threaten the very survival of this council and the long-term future of it.”
Cllr Thorpe said that despite the financial issues the council could not return to ‘business as usual’ after this.
He said the changes in caring for the homeless and the vulnerable should not be rolled back. And he said the role played by the public sector should not be forgotten.
Leader of the Liberal Democrat group Cllr Malcolm Cowan also praised ‘how quickly and effectively’ the council had responded to the ‘unprecedented crisis’.
He also asked for assurances about whether Mears contractors were receiving regular health checks and also about any work to help high streets.
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