Although the local authority came into 2020 with a renewed package of investment as a result of its ‘financial diligence’ in austere recent times - and subsequently promised to invest significantly in services for the first time in years - doubt has been cast on future spending.
The Chronicle can reveal the cost in Barnsley of dealing with the pandemic has so far exceeded the £14m of government funding the council’s received and, with the anticipated loss of income from council tax and other rates, a £38m gap in finances is expected.
Council leader Sir Steve Houghton said: “The additional cost of dealing with coronavirus and maintaining critical services far exceeds the government funding we’ve received.
“On top of this, the expected loss of income from council tax, business rates and other charges is anticipated to be £24m, causing a £38m gap in our finances, which will have an immediate impact as well as in years to come.
“The pandemic has brought many challenges across the world, and we could never have imagined, or fully planned, for how it would have affected our borough.
“We have to make difficult decisions about how we deliver our services. Our decisions aim to keep critical services up and running for our residents while protecting the most vulnerable in our society.”
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, assured councils across the country that they would be fully reimbursed for extra costs - something which has been praised by Sir Steve - but it could prove to be ‘not enough’ in the long run.
“We don’t underestimate the enormous challenge the government are facing, and we’re grateful for the support which they have already offered to our residents, communities and businesses,” he added.
“It has helped us to make significant payments to local care providers, as well as distributing the entirety of the grants for businesses.
“We’re continuously looking at the financial impact on the council, and the borough. We have an excellent track record for sound financial management, and we came into the new financial year with a positive outlook.
“While we welcome the government’s pledge for an extra £1.6bn for councils, it simply won’t be enough to sustain services. We’ll be planning how we manage our budget deficit over the coming months.
“For now, while we’re still dealing with the daily challenges, we’ll continue to deliver services to those that need it the most.
“Our children’s social care team are supporting vulnerable children, our adult social care team are working alongside the NHS to deliver frontline care, our waste collection team are working within the social distancing restrictions so they can keep emptying the bins, we’ve made sure that the children of key workers can stay in school, we’ve found shelter for all of our homeless and rough sleepers and our Public Health team has co-ordinated the whole process together with our health partners.
“It’s critical that local governments across the country are properly funded now and, in the future, to make sure that we can continue to support our most vulnerable residents and communities.
“We’re one of the hardest-hit councils in the country in terms of funding, and it’s unrealistic to expect us to deal with such a deficit without being provided with further support from the government.”