Councils in Portsmouth area warn of long-term 'challenges' as savings deplete in coronavirus fight

COUNCILS are having to dig deep into their pockets to keep services going during the coronavirus outbreak – but warn that this could lead to hardship in the future.

By David George
Saturday, 9th May 2020, 1:21 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th May 2020, 3:40 pm

With additional strain placed on local authorities since the pandemic broke out, council leaders have been looking to their reserves to keep things running smoothly.

Council reserves are the piggy banks of money saved up over the years – considered to be a ‘rainy day fund’.

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Most councils have a few million pounds in the kitty and have seen government grants come their way, but tough decisions might have to be made in the long-term.

The reserves have been used to continue meeting council spending plans, since income for things like car parks has been decimated by the virus.

But coronavirus schemes to help rough sleepers and improve social distancing have also come at an added cost.

Fareham Borough Council has £5m in reserve funding – but is expecting to spend at least £3m on helping the town through the virus outbreak.

So far, Fareham has received a grant of £1.1m from the government.

Council leader, Cllr Sean Woodward, said: ‘Things such as refuse collection have become more expensive, so we need to use our reserves to keep services like that going.

‘The government told us they would see us through, but I fear that we’ll have to keep on lobbying them for money.

‘Once the virus has passed, we will have to rebuild those savings but also need to continue delivering services, so there will be lots of challenges going forward.’

In Gosport, the council has £3.7m in its reserves and so far spent £610,000 on battling coronavirus.

But leader Cllr Mark Hook says he has faith in the government, after grants totalling around £885,000 came the council’s way.

‘We had to use the reserves like an overdraft,’ he said.

‘That money has come back now, but the virus is costing us around £300,000 per month.

‘After lockdown we will have a business and community recovery plan – we won’t make residents carry the burden.’

Across the harbour, Portsmouth City Council has the largest reserve fund in the region, with £23m as of March 31.

While the council hasn’t dipped into its general reserves fund just yet, council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson is concerned about what the future will hold.

‘We don’t know how things will pan out moving forward,’ he said.

‘£23m isn’t much considering Portsmouth City Council spends more than £700m every year.

‘It depends on things such as rent being paid to us, and what happens to our funding from central government.

‘Nobody truly knows what the future will hold.’

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