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"Magnificent" response to COVID-19 - but budget will be hit

30 April 2020

Norfolk County Council and its partners have responded “magnificently” to the challenges of coronavirus – but the pandemic will hit the Council’s budget and local businesses.

That’s the message from two new reports that will be discussed by the County Council’s Cabinet in a virtual, online meeting on 11 May.

County Council leader Councillor Andrew Proctor paid tribute to county council staff, schools, the NHS and partner agencies for working together to support vulnerable people and the wider community during the pandemic – including the procurement team’s efforts to source enough protective personal equipment (PPE) for the council and care homes.

He said: “The response to COVID-9 in Norfolk has been a huge community and partnership effort spearheaded by local government.

“That has been illustrated so well by the dedication and commitment shown by colleagues across Norfolk County Council, working with all its partners, showing how the council is making a difference in these extraordinary and challenging times to everyone in Norfolk.”

Councillor Proctor said the Council was already working on plans to help Norfolk recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the council has been working closely and effectively with district councils, the NHS, police and other public sector partners. It is proposing to set up a public sector leaders’ board, to ensure this approach continues in the future.

The report also quotes research from the Centre for Progressive Policy, which predicts the economic impact of coronavirus will range from a 41 per cent reduction in gross value added (GVA) in Norwich and Breckland to 25 per cent in South Norfolk. It warns that the tourism and leisure sector, which is dominated by small businesses, will be hit hard.

Councillor Proctor said: “Although the Government is offering support to a range of sectors, there will still be a big impact on our economy. The council and all partners in Norfolk are working with the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership to devise the best strategy to recover from this economic shock.”

A second report, on the Council’s budget outlook, says the council has been allocated £43.6m of additional Government funding so far – but is predicting a shortfall of £19.035m, compared to the actual increased costs and loss of income caused the response to COVID-19 and the lockdown over a six month period. An extra £3.5m is being spent to support the care market. Predicted loss of income includes £7.3m in community and environmental services and £5m in adult social care.

Councillor Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance, said: “We are doing what it takes to support the public during this pandemic – but there is no doubt we will take a financial hit, due to lost savings, additional costs to services and loss of income.

"We were already urging the Government to provide sustainable future funding for councils. This is more important than ever, due to the impact of the pandemic and how that will change the shape of services.”

The meeting will take place at 10am on Monday, 11 May and you can watch live on YouTube.

View the meeting details and agenda online.

Examples of how the council has helped

Examples of the wide range of ways in which the council has supported people during the pandemic are listed in appendix A of the report.

Some examples include:

  • Identifying and visiting the most vulnerable children and adults
  • Supporting schools that have remained open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers, including support in implementing the new free school meal scheme
  • Sourcing personal protective equipment locally, nationally and internationally for frontline council staff and care homes
  • Setting up step down beds, to enable the NHS to discharge patients safely
  • Creating a skills bank, so that staff can volunteer to assist with distribution of food and personal protective equipment
  • Offering digital support from libraries, museums and adult learning, to support home schooling and enable people to stay safe and well during the lockdown

What the reports say on key topics

The economy

“Economic recovery will be the single biggest focus by a substantial distance of Norfolk’s recovery efforts. We know there are sectors which are particularly affected, including agri food and the visitor economy (tourism, culture and hospitality businesses). We will work with the LEP, all levels of business, government departments and all our partners to ensure there is a joined-up approach, identifying the critical/ urgent issues and gaps in Government support and the long-term impacts which will feed into the development of a regional recovery plan. A key action being accelerated is developing a tourism action plan for the visitor economy, working with the region’s tourism bodies to ensure its recovery and future resilience.”

The Council’s finances

“The Council is still evaluating how the likely 2021-22 gap will be funded, but it is clear that there is a need for a new, different relationship with Government to rectify some of the long term problems surrounding local government funding. Without an increased level of Government assistance, there are likely to be significant savings to be found to deliver a balanced Budget in 2021-22. However, in view of the very substantial level of uncertainty about the medium term impacts of COVID-19, and the rapidly changing landscape of Government announcements, it is proposed that an updated MTFS and budget setting process for 2021-22 is brought to the next Cabinet meeting, when there may be some further clarity to inform forecasts.”

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