THE town council has reported that the coronavirus pandemic cost the town a total of £310,000.
Councillors met in person for the first time in over a year on Wednesday evening, as virtual meetings no longer have legal status following a government ruling.
The council met socially-distanced in the Marine Theatre, where they heard the financial impact of COVID-19.
A report by finance officer Mark Russell said that lost income caused by coronavirus in 2020/21 totalled £322,000, with a staggering £191,000 coming from lost car parking revenue alone.
A further £57,000 was lost from chalet lease fees at Monmouth Beach, with owners offered a 20 per cent reduction as the park had to remain closed for several months.
A total of £30,000 was lost on amenities such as the mini golf, £34,000 on beach hut hire, £18,000 on al fresco dining after the government reduced the amount the council could charge businesses with outside eating areas, £9,000 on concessions such as the beach trampolines and deckchairs, and £3,000 on holiday parking permits.
On top of reduced income, COVID-19 also resulted in £37,000 additional expenditure for the council, including £15,000 on additional toilet cleaning and £10,000 on security guards to patrol the seafront amid an increase in anti-social behaviour, which has been put down to a lack of other facilities and entertainment being open.
A further £4,000 was spent on personal protective equipment, £3,000 on a phone system to allow council staff to work from home, £3,000 on legal fees, £1,000 on fogging equipment and £1,000 on other cleaning.
The council was able to recover £54,000 from the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and received two small grants totalling £5,400 from Dorset Council, meaning the total cost of the coronavirus pandemic to the town stands at £310,000.
More positive financial outlook
In June 2020, there were concerns that the pandemic would “wipe out” the council’s finances, with reserves having already dropped from £969,794 to £581,674 in the first few months of the first national lockdown.
Town clerk John Wright warned that reserves could drop as low as £67,000 by the end of the financial year, but following a successful late summer period after restrictions began to ease, the financial outlook is now far more positive.
Mr Wright said this week that if summer went to plan the council was likely to have a surplus to spend on objectives or to pay off a long-standing loan with Dorset Council, making it debt free.
However, he warned councillors to act cautiously and prudently for the time being.
Mr Wright said the council was able to take some other positives from the pandemic.
The council had demonstrated it could respond quickly and make effective decisions outside the normal committee structure and e-working had improved customer-facing transactions, such as issuing parking permits and beach hut bookings.
New technology and virtual meetings could also be used to support other aspects of business in the future.
Improved working relationships
Mr Wright said that the need to co-ordinate decision-making and activities had improved the town council’s working relationship with Dorset Council and there was now a much stronger dialogue between the two authorities.
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Cllr Brian Larcombe MBE, said they had also held several positive meetings with West Dorset MP Chris Loder and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset.
One of the main successes from working under COVID restrictions was the ‘zoning’ arrangements introduced to the council’s outside workforce.
Staff were given specific areas of the town to work on, such as the cemetery or seafront gardens, to limit the amount they came into contact with one another.
Mr Wright said this had created a “sense of pride over specific locations” and they would be continuing this way of working in the future.
The mayor said the success of this scheme was evident from positive comments from the public.
On a less positive note, the town clerk said the pandemic had also resulted in an increase in anti-social behaviour due to a lack of facilities and entertainment available to the public.
The mayor said this was an ongoing issue from 2018/19 that had been exacerbated by the pandemic, with many more complaints from residents in the seafront area received last year.
The council is now preparing to employ security guards for a second year to patrol the seafront during summer, although this year this will be paid for by government funding via Dorset Council.
It was announced on Wednesday night that the council had been successful in a £22,680 bid to pay for the security guards. They are now expected to patrol the seafront and gardens every night until the first week of September.
The council may also receive a further £27,000 in funding to help pay for additional toilet cleaning and litter collections, although this is still under discussion with Dorset Council.