Published: 13 Aug 20
Leisure centres will reopen and services will continue after Waverley Borough Council approved a revised contingency budget in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
At an Extraordinary Full Council meeting on Tuesday night, 49 councillors supported the Executive’s recommendation to approve the contingency budget, which was brought before councillors to address the council’s £6.6 million projected shortfall in its in-year budget.
The council, like many other individuals and industries, was subject to being significantly adversely hit by the crisis. Throughout the lockdown period, key income sources from leisure centres, car parks and other fees and charges were (and continue to be) affected by enforced closures or reductions in usage. This happened at the same time as the council’s emergency response, where it invested money and resources to support vulnerable residents, the homeless and businesses, as well as coordinating the response of local volunteer organisations and facilitating the payment of support grants.
The council will receive a government Covid-19 support payment of £1.4 million, but the contingency budget was necessary to agree how the council will find the remaining £5.2 million shortfall. The proposals included spending cuts, savings on staff salaries through a continued recruitment freeze and the use of over £3m of the council’s reserves.
The contingency budget was put together using only the confirmed amount of government financial support. On 2 July the government announced it would give compensation for some lost income from fees and charges. The details of the precise amount that Waverley may receive is still not known.
Councillor Mark Merryweather, Portfolio Holder for Finance at Waverley Borough Council, said: “What we have managed to achieve in the past few months has been a true community effort. We are incredibly proud to have supported this borough through this emergency and will continue to do so in the future. I am pleased that people will be able to get back to visiting our much-loved leisure centres from 17 August. Although there will be some changes to usual operations to ensure visitors’ safety, it is a sign that some normality is returning.
“However, we cannot ignore the financial impact this pandemic has had on our finances. The estimated effect just for this year is over £6 million which is a vast portion of our budget; for context, the shortfall is equivalent to just under half of the council’s net annual budget for 2020/21. A huge amount of work is going into managing this, and it's not over by any means. We’ve acted sensibly and responsibly and that is why we're making sure we're prepared to mitigate the projected shortfall. It is beyond a shame we still don’t know any more about the government support funding announced over a month ago now, other than that it will not cover the whole of our shortfall. This is very disappointing after we were promised that councils would not be left short of funds.”
During the meeting, which was held via Zoom, councillors agreed that a full revision of its medium term financial plan, which sets out the council’s spending plans over the next five years, be undertaken and reported back in December.
Councillor Merryweather added: “Before the coronavirus pandemic we were already looking to make total savings of more than £5 million per year by 2023/24, to compensate for planned cuts to our funding by government.
“Now, on top of the impact of coronavirus and other uncertainties that lie ahead, it is inevitable there will be many more difficult decisions to make. However, we will make sure we keep the interests of this borough’s residents at the heart of everything we do and any future decisions we make.”
Notes to editors
•To watch the council meeting visit the council’s YouTube page.
•The full agenda papers can be found on the council’s website.
•A total of 49 councillors voted for the contingency budget recommendations, with one councillor voting against.