Conservative led Wiltshire Council is working hard to mitigate the financial risk brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Despite national reports hinting at the contrary, Wiltshire Council is confident that there will be no need to issue a section 114 notice, which is a process that sees a council's Director of Finance warning that the council's budget will be unbalanced and exhaust all available funding by the end of the financial year.
Like all other local authorities during COVID-19, Wiltshire Council has had reduced income due to services such as leisure and car parking halting temporarily, and has had to spend more money to protect the vulnerable, and ensure people have what they need to get through this difficult time. This has included setting up the Wiltshire Wellbeing Hub, which has coordinated supporting thousands of residents with food packages, supporting cares home with the supply of PPE, and working closely with schools as they provide lessons for key worker children and remote learning for other pupils.
It is still too early to say for certain what the true financial impact to the council will be. However, with the level of funding support from central Government currently estimated at £29.8 million, of which £0.4 million has been allocated to cover costs incurred in the last financial year, a shortfall in its finances is forecast to be in the region of £50 million, which is the equivalent to 15% of the council's net budget. However, it's still relatively early in the financial year with time to turn this around.
Conservative Cllr Philip Whitehead, Leader of Wiltshire Council, said: "What we're facing is not any different to every other council at the moment. In fact, given our prudent and efficient running of the council over the last decade or so, I'd say we're actually in a better position than many. We are undoubtedly facing challenges, and are not shying away from that, however we are confident Government will be providing further financial support, and together with our careful planning, this will help us get through this.
"We want to reassure residents who are seeing the word ‘bankruptcy' in the media that everyone at the council is working round the clock and is fully committed to deal with this head on. A section 114 notice is always a last resort, and it is not something we're contemplating at the moment."
The council's Cabinet recently agreed to revise the council's capital programme, originally agreed in February 2020, so that the focus of its capital resources is on the key investment projects during 2020/21 and is aligned with the upcoming recovery. Although there have been projects deferred into 2021/22, no project or scheme within the programme has been stopped or removed.