Says government must keep its pledge to cover pandemic costs
October 14, 2020
Ealing Council is expecting to have to make savings of £28 million in one of the “most difficult years” it’s faced, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at the council’s cabinet meeting, finance chief Bassam Mahfouz made a plea to the national government to reimburse the council’s £15 million spent on tackling the pandemic in the borough, which ministers pledged to repay at the beginning of the crisis.
He told colleagues that a £28 million shortfall will need to be plugged for the 2021/22 financial year.
Cllr Mahfouz said, “As this report pulls out, we remain in a position where the government continues to ask more of us but won’t keep its simple promise that it made right at the start of this crisis, to pay the Covid-19 bill, that we and Ealing residents will be faced with at the end of the crisis.
“Before the pandemic we were on a strong footing thanks to our Future Ealing work but now we’re facing an unpaid bill of circa £15m. Against that backdrop of 64p in the pound that we had cut in the last 10 years by the same government.
“That leaves us with I can only describe a gargantuan target of possibly £28m worth of savings to find for the next financial year, as well as plugging the sizeable gap that we have this year.”
He added: “It’s one of the most substantial levels of savings that we’re going to have to achieve in one single year, in one of the most difficult years we’ve faced so far.”
In the report brought to cabinet members on the budget strategy and medium term financial strategy for 2021-22 and 2023-24, the council also forecasts a budget shortfall of nearly £66 million over the three-year period.
According to Ealing Council, the total financial impact of coronavirus since March has now reached £71 million.
It has warned there are some “tough decisions to come”, but is pledging to “do everything it can” to protect local services.
Asked by Lib Dem group leader Gary Malcolm what cost the setting up of the new local test and trace system will be for the council, officers explained this is one area where more than £2.25 million of ring-fenced funding has been received from the government to deliver the plan.
Cabinet member for health, councillor Binda Rai, added, “We have been given some money from the government to do the test and trace initiative but we don’t have enough…
“It’s going to be difficult for us to trust the government to actually keep to their promise and fund what’s required. We are working in the dark on this one a little bit.”
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter