Councillors asked to sign blank cheque to tackle fall-out from coronavirus

Senior councillors are being asked to sign a blank cheque as officials wrestle with the mounting costs of tackling the coronavirus crisis.

A Brighton and Hove City Council report seeking permission to spend millions of pounds extra in the coming weeks and months said: “It is not possible quantify all of the costs, losses and exceptional expenses that the authority will experience during this crisis.

“It is therefore not currently possible to say whether or not the government emergency funding streams will be sufficient to defray these financial impacts.”

The report, to the council’s Policy and Resources Urgency Sub-Committee, said: “The covid-19 coronavirus pandemic will have significant and potentially severe financial consequences for individuals, businesses and the third sector as well as for the public sector, including the council.

“For individuals and businesses, the restrictions on movement and activity relating to social distancing measures and isolation will impact on trade, the visitor economy and jobs and would cause hardship, evictions and insolvencies without government financial and legislative protections and accompanying support and responses from the council, other public sector agencies and the third sector.

“The government has announced a number of measures to protect individuals and businesses including a temporary ban on evictions together with a national package of financial support distributed through various agencies, including funding provided to and through local authorities.

“However, the council will itself experience significant financial impacts.”

The three-member urgency sub-committee, which is due hold a “virtual” meeting at 10am tomorrow (Tuesday 31 March), will be asked to agree a range of measures, including a halt to some major projects.

The finance report warns members that receipts from council tax, business rates and rents – including commercial rents – are likely to fall short as people struggle to pay their bills.

Other areas where the council faces a loss of income include parking charges, fees for events and entry to museums and venues such as the Royal Pavilion.

Benefits claims are expected to rise although much of the cost can be recouped from the government.

There are also worries about how quickly the government will repay councils for extra spending ordered by ministers.

The council faces exceptional extra costs including paying for personal protective equipment – known as PPE – for people working in social care.

It is looking at funding more care home beds to reduce hospital bed-blocking so wards can cope with any influx people suffering from the coronavirus.

And the urgency sub-committee report touches on measures for paying the council’s casual workforce as well as funding sickness cover for the higher than average number of absent staff.

A further report into how government funds are used is due to be prepared for the council’s Policy and Resources Committee which is scheduled to meet on Thursday 30 April.

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