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No cuts to frontline services in financial recovery, says council leader

No cuts to frontline services in financial recovery, says council leader

Published by May Norman with contributions by Local Democracy Reporter Jacob Webster at 6:43am 2nd July 2020.

£15m gap in Harrogate's finances

  • There will be no cuts to frontline services as Harrogate Borough Council faces a £15million gap in its finances.
  • Leader Richard Cooper has because of savings and investments made before the pandemic they don't have a financial emergency.
  • He says spending will only take place in essential areas.

The leader of Harrogate Borough Council has said there will be no cuts to frontline services as the authority looks to deal with a £15million gap in its finances.

Councillor Richard Cooper said the authority is also not looking to drastically redraw its budget as part of a recovery plan approved tonight by senior councillors.

It comes as some harder-hit authorities across the UK are drawing up emergency budgets and warning that they may have to issue S114 notices – the mechanism used by local authorities to effectively declare bankruptcy.

Coun Cooper, however, says this will not be necessary in Harrogate because of savings and investments made before the pandemic struck.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service:

“In short, we mended the roof while the sun was shining. Because we did that we don’t have a financial emergency and we don’t have to look at cuts to front-line services.”

The council’s shortfall is due to loss of income on such things as leisure and car parking. It has meant the authority has had to put a partial freeze on recruitment and restrictions on spending to “essential” areas only.

The council has received an emergency grant of £1.65million from the government – but the council says it doesn’t go far enough.

Meanwhile, North Yorkshire County Council is facing a deficit of around £42million and is hoping to avoid bankruptcy with more financial help from the government.

Local Government Minister Simon Clarke said councils had been offered “unprecedented” levels of financial support throughout the pandemic.

Speaking of Harrogate council’s £15million shortfall, Coun Cooper said:

“Some of that is due to conferences and exhibitions not happening, some because we wanted to support retail and gave our commercial tenants a three-month rent holiday, some because we undertook additional work requested of us by the government including the hosting of the Nightingale Hospital.

“So we are hoping the government will be able to help further with the shortfall on our budgeted income but we are aware that it is all taxpayers’ money in the end and that the government has financial problems which frankly dwarf our own.”

Local Government Minister Mr Clarke said the government is preparing a “comprehensive plan” to address council budget shortfalls.

The minister said:

“We’re giving councils an unprecedented package of support, including £3.2bn non-ringfenced emergency funding, to tackle the pressures they have told us they’re facing.

“This is part of a wider package of support from across government for local communities and businesses, totalling over £27bn, including grants, business rate relief and for local transport.

“We are working on a comprehensive plan to ensure councils’ financial sustainability over the financial year ahead.

“We will continue to work closely with them to ensure they are managing their costs and we have a collective understanding of the costs they are facing.”