Having previously warned that it could go bankrupt this year, Wiltshire Council is now reporting an underspend.
Although there continue to be challenges ahead, particularly with the setting of the 2021/22 budget, the council is currently anticipating an underspend of around £71k at the end of the 2020/21 financial year. Any underspend at the end of the year will be transferred to the General Fund Reserve, which currently stands at £15.456m, and any overspend will be required to be funded by this reserve.
This positive position has been achieved due to careful financial management by the council and some service areas significantly changing their total spend forecast as a result of lockdown alongside additional grant funding support from government.
Throughout the pandemic, the council has taken steps to manage their finances as carefully as possible. It has put a limit on spending on such things as training and consultants and a recruitment freeze is in place, with exceptions only for essential statutory, technical or professional roles if approved by a senior officer.
Additional grants were provided to the council to support the restrictions that are in place until 2 December. These include an additional £4m for Contain Outbreak Management Fund, £1.108m for COVID Winter Grant Scheme, £128k for Rough Sleepers, £10m for Additional Restrictions Support Grant for businesses, £7.223m for Local Restrictions Support Grant for businesses and £50k for Domestic Abuse Capacity Building Fund. These grants have to be spent on the activities earmarked for them and are therefore ringfenced, so don’t have any impact on the overall finances of the council.
As a result of the national lockdown restrictions, due to end on 2 December, the council also forecasts that an additional £840k of fees and charges income will be lost across services such as leisure, libraries and car parking. The council anticipates that around £600k will be reimbursed through the Government’s income loss compensation grant scheme, leaving an overall pressure of £240k from additional income losses.
Cllr Pauline Church, Wiltshire Council Cabinet Member for Finance, Procurement and Commercial Investment, said:
This has been an incredibly tough year which has required a lot of resource and finances at a national and local level to ensure people and businesses have all the support they need.
While we are confident of delivering a balanced budget for 2020/21, which in itself will be a great achievement given the circumstances, the next financial year and beyond will undoubtedly be challenging and require us to make some tough decisions. When we emerge from this pandemic, the impact of COVID-19 will be felt for some time to come and we’ll need to focus our time, energy and resources to help the county recover. We await with interest to see how the additional money for local councils announced by the Chancellor in the recent spending review will be distributed, including the additional money to support adult social care.
We know there will still be tough times ahead, and as we have always been an agile, creative and financially resilient council, this puts us on a strong footing as we work with partners and our proactive communities to face these challenges together, and help our county get back on its feet as quickly as possible.