Dorset Council Cabinet to discuss £35m shortfall caused by COVID-19

DORSET Council’s Cabinet are to meet virtually next week with a large and important agenda, including the budget for 2021/22 which is expected to see a shortfall of £35million. 

Members of the public can watch the Cabinet meeting online on Tuesday, October 6 at 10am by downloading the Microsoft Teams app and following the link on the published agenda.

Details of how to request to speak and submit questions for Cabinet are also available on the council’s website.  A recording of the meeting will be available afterwards to watch on the council’s YouTube channel (DorsetCouncilUK).

All reports coming the October Cabinet meeting will be considered within the context of the council’s financial position, now and over the coming years. 

The first report on the agenda provides a framework for the council’s budget for 2021/22 and the Medium-Term Financial Plan (MTFP) for 2021 to 2026. It also outlines the work which will be undertaken during coming months so that the budget and MTFP can be finalised at the full council meeting in February 2021.   

Like many councils across the country, Dorset Council has taken a big financial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that the total impact of COVID-19 on the council’s budget is more than £60million due to additional expenditure and lost income.

After grants and reliefs from government for COVID-19, the net impact this financial year is around £35million. Without further funding from government, the council will be forced to use significant quantities of its own reserves this year to cover the gap.

Reserves can only be spent once so this will place additional strain on future resilience and potentially leave the council unable to fund changes in demand-led services in future. 

There are likely to be ongoing budget pressures resulting from COVID-19 in future years too, and this is on top of the continually growing demand for adults and children’s social care as a result of our changing population. 

There are many uncertainties making it hard to forecast the council’s financial position over coming years, but the current best estimate is that the council will face a budget gap of £41.9m in 2021/22. 

Work is underway to close the budget gap in the next financial year. The council has identified £11.9million of tactical savings, such as deleting vacant posts, reducing staff travel and training budgets, and making contract efficiencies, and a potential £8.2million of transformation savings, i.e. changing the way it delivers services.  

At this stage, this still leaves a budget gap of £21.8million so further work is required to be able to present a balanced budget proposal for full council to consider in February 2021. 

Cllr Gary Suttle, portfolio holder for Finance, Commercial and Capital Strategy, said:  “These are very uncertain times. We may face a second wave of COVID-19 here in Dorset and, if we do, there will be a further financial impact from that. 

“There is also uncertainty around the content of the government’s comprehensive spending review, likely to be announced in December, so we don’t yet have details of council funding next year. 

“The savings we’ve made over the last 18 months as a result of local government reorganisation and the creation of Dorset Council to replace the former county, district and borough councils is helping us to weather this storm. But it remains a very challenging time financially. 

“We continue to lobby government, directly with government minsters and via Dorset MPs, for the funding we need to serve the people of Dorset. We are grateful to the government for the additional support they have provided this year to help with the gap in our budget caused by COVID-19, but it isn’t enough to fully cover the cost.

“We are working hard to manage our budget gap over the coming months but there may be difficult decisions ahead.” 

Other reports coming to the Cabinet meeting next week will include the following:

The Dorset Workplace – outlines a set of principles that will allow council employees to work from the place, or more likely the places, where they can best serve residents, customers and clients in the most effective way in future. It recommends rationalisation of the council office accommodation and more flexible working, including working from or out of home and other locations, as appropriate. 

Value for money – recommends conducting value for money reviews of all council services. 

Dinah’s Hollow Slope Stabilisation – proposals for slope stabilisation work at Dinah’s Hollow, Melbury Abbas to mitigate risk of landslip. 

Weymouth Harbour and Esplanade Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy – outlines a plan of works for Weymouth harbour walls and esplanade sea defences, agreed with the Environment Agency, to manage the risk of tidal flood and coastal erosion over the next 100 years. 

Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy Delivery Plan – proposes a Climate Action Plan (to meet the target of becoming carbon neutral by 2040) for public consultation, along with the Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy. 

Dogrelated Public Space Protection Order – summarises the findings from a Dog-related Public Space Protection Order consultation undertaken between January and May 2020. Informed by the consultation it proposes the Dog-related Public Spaces Protection Order 2020 to replace and consolidate existing Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) and provisions for the council area for a period of three years.   

Financial provision to the voluntary and community sector – explains the results of the public consultation earlier this year on proposals for future allocation funding to the voluntary community sector. It is proposed that the council maintains overall levels of funding to the sector and introduces a harmonised, equitable approach to allocation of funding across the Dorset Council area, enabling the voluntary community sector to deliver community priorities for the period 2021-2026. 

‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper: consultation response – recommends the proposed council response to the government’s white paper, ‘Planning for the Future’, which proposes radical changes to England’s current planning system.  

Children and Young People and Families’ Plan 2020-2023 – recommends the Children, Young People and Families Plan 2020-23 for endorsement and adoption by the council. The vision for the plan is “for Dorset to be the best place to be a child, where communities thrive and families are supported to be the best they can be.” 

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