Leader wants more accurate figures before saying how much coronavirus will cost South Northamptonshire Council

South Northamptonshire Council leader Ian McCord is waiting until numbers become clearer to say what kind of impact COVID-19 will have on the authority.South Northamptonshire Council leader Ian McCord is waiting until numbers become clearer to say what kind of impact COVID-19 will have on the authority.
South Northamptonshire Council leader Ian McCord is waiting until numbers become clearer to say what kind of impact COVID-19 will have on the authority. | ugc
The leader of South Northamptonshire Council says he wants ‘more clarity’ before publishing a paper on how coronavirus will financially impact the authority.

The ongoing pandemic has caused major financial problems for councils across the country. In Northamptonshire, the county council has already produced estimates that unless more funding comes from the Government, there could be a funding gap of between £14 million and £27 million.And this week, Northampton Borough Council became the first district authority in the county to release its estimates – anticipating that should no further help come from Westminster it would be overspending its budget by about £2 million to £3 million.But Councillor Ian McCord, the Conservative leader of South Northamptonshire Council, said he wants more accurate figures before the council produces its own report.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We have been looking at the situation internally, and the problem with all of this is that there is so much latitude and squidginess in the numbers and the assumptions can be quite wide.

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“I would rather bring a report forward which is saying we believe it’s going to be this amount, rather than in a range between say £2 million and £10 million that doesn’t tell you very much.

“I would prefer there was a bit more accuracy in the figures if we can do that. But like all councils, there are so many assumptions about what’s going to happen on things like council tax, business rates, when the furlough scheme ends, and homelessness. We don’t know the answers to any of these. But as soon as we can get more clarity we’ll do it.”

Asked when he thought such a report might be put into the public domain, Councillor McCord indicated that they could try and target a June 8 cabinet meeting, but that there were no guarantees.

Part of gaining more clarity could also hinge on any further funding that may be made available by the Government. So far, South Northants has received an extra £970,000 from Westminster. But depending on each council’s levels of reserves, the amounts handed over so far have not been enough for some.

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Councillor McCord admitted there was still confusion over what the Government had originally pledged, with many councils believing it agreed to meet any extra costs associated with COVID-19. But it appears that the original pledge may since have been rowed back on, or may have been misinterpreted.

He also fears that more councils across the country could declare section 114 notices, which effectively ban all but legal spending. In 2018, Northamptonshire County Council became the first local authority in two decades to issue such a notice.

Councillor McCord added: “I think there’s still a discussion to be had with the Government about them saying ‘whatever it takes we’ll meet your costs in full’ or whatever terminology it was they used. What exactly does it mean? There still, in my view, appears to be a bit of confusion. Maybe it meant the additional cost of providing for food packages, but not the loss of income from parking charges. There is a lot of discussion to be had.

“The Government’s retort to that is that there’s so much slack in the figures. So it’s the responsibility of local governments to come up with more realistic nailed down numbers, and for the government, when they have numbers that they can lean on, to say what their obligations are going to be. There’s going to be a massive local government sector-wide issue. If you’re not careful section 114 notices won’t be rare events, you’d almost be totting up those who haven’t had one.”

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