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Coronavirus: Harrogate Borough Council reveals three-point recovery plan

Coronavirus: Harrogate Borough Council reveals three-point recovery plan

Published by May Norman with contributions by Local Democracy Reporter Jacob Webster at 8:48am 30th April 2020.

Council chief exec sets out plan to ease out of lockdown

  • Wallace Sampson has revealed how Harrogate Borough Council plans to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The three-point plan will prioritise frontline services.
  • The council will also take a “critical” look at the £20million it has in reserves.

The chief executive of Harrogate Borough Council has set out a three-part plan to ease the authority out of lockdown in the face of an £8.5million hole in its finances.

Wallace Sampson said the council is prioritising frontline services, staff safety and the district’s hard-hit economy as it starts plotting a route to recovery.

The local authority has only received £1.6million towards its climbing coronavirus costs from central government to date – and any future funds remain an uncertainty.

But Mr Sampson said there is no “immediate concern” that the council will be short of the cash it needs to fund essential services.

“This is more about how we manage the shortfall through to the end of March,” he said, “And how we achieve this could mean we look at areas where we are spending the most.”

Mr Sampson said the council will also take a “critical” look at the £20million it has in reserves, most of which has been earmarked for projects:

“There are a range of things we can look at to ensure we do balance our finances by the end of March. But one thing we will do is make sure, as much as possible, that our frontline services are not affected.”

Setting out the council’s post-lockdown priorities, Mr Sampson said:

“We are really seeing this in three different aspects. One – as we start to come out of lockdown what that means for residents and customers, and how we can support them in the new norm.

“Secondly, and in relation to the economy, as we see which sectors might reopen the earliest, we will seek to help them with this transition.

“And lastly, we will have an internal focus, as we partially and sensibly transition back into the normal working environment.”

The council’s income streams from its leisure centres, car parks and other activities have been severely curtailed – and in some cases stopped altogether.

Added to this, the authority has seen a sharp rise in demand for its services, including bin collections and business support, all while hundreds of officers have been spread out working from home.

Despite the unusual working arrangements, Mr Sampson said many services have continued to run without any disruption.

He said:

“We have been on the front foot and proactive from the very start by ensuring that our key frontline services have been prioritised and protected.

“The council workforce has responded in a way which has gone way beyond their call of duty.”

He went on:

“We regularly test various scenarios as part of our emergency planning. But I don’t think anybody can say they were in a situation where they were totally prepared for a coronavirus-type pandemic.

“It is almost impossible.

“But the plans we did have in place gave us a good start and we were able to hit the ground running as we transitioned into a new way of working.

“This was not new for Harrogate Borough Council. It was something we were doing anyway, we just had to scale it up, and very quickly.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, the council as a whole has responded to the challenges placed upon us by the coronavirus in a truly outstanding way.”

Harrogate Borough Council received just under £66,000 from the government in its first tranche of funds.

It was welcomed by Mr Sampson, but he said it would be nowhere near enough to cover the financial impact.

A further £1,587,198 was then announced on Tuesday, confirming the council’s total allocation of £1.6million so far.

Announcing the funds, Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said:

“We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with local government and my priority is to make sure they are supported so they can continue to support their communities through this challenging time.

“Up and down the country council workers are the unsung heroes as we tackle this virus. They are in the front line of the national effort to keep the public safe and deliver the services people need.

“Never has this been more important and we are all rightly grateful for everything that they are doing.”