COVID costs continue to mount for Dorset Council

COVID costs are continuing to mount for Dorset Council with additional financial support for some services expected to be required well into next year.

In addition to suffering lost income from items such as car parking and leisure centres the authority is also now having to pick up some of the bills previously met by government grants.

One of these is payments to help patients leaving hospital which has been reduced from six weeks to four and may disappear altogether by the autumn.

Adult social care portfolio holder, Cllr Laura Miller, said the potential loss of government hospital discharge grants could be costly to Dorset. She said that she and others were lobbying the health minister directly and through local MPs to bring about a change of mind.

That service has also clocked up £2.65million of unrecoverable costs in operating the 24/7 referral, brokerage, assessment and care management programme.

Children’s services portfolio holder, Cllr Andrew Parry, said that like adult services costs were also rising, often through ‘bidding wars’ for the limited number of specialist places which were available.

“We have increased demand and reduced capacity which drives up costs,” he said.

A recent Dorset Council cabinet meeting heard that the combined factors lead to a potential big hole in the authority’s finance – of around £8.25million at the end of the first three months of the financial year, which would have been worse had it not been for a grant income of £8.6million from the government.

On the loss side the council say its leisure centres are £1million down with projections that 80 per cent of pre-Covid clients would return by the end of the year now looking unlikely to be achieved.

Parking incomes are also down – with an adverse forecast of £445,000, although summer tourism may eventually help the budget; planning fee income is expected to now be £743,000 down on projections with waste services down £286,000.

Other, smaller overspends, or reductions in income are predicted across almost every area of council activity.

If the council do nothing the 2022/23 budget gap is predicted to be £8.95million; in 2023/24 £19.2million; 2024/25 £29.14million and by 2025/26 £39.43million.

Portfolio holder for the budget, Cllr Gary Suttle, said that despite the figures he was still fairly optimistic and hopeful that the economy would pick up and there might also be a reduction in the pressure on the social care system.

“Many things may change – our aim is to balance the budget and we will try and do so,” he said.

By Local Democracy Reporter Trevor Bevins

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