How Eastbourne is balancing the books during Covid
From: Cllr Stephen Holt Deputy Leader and Finance Portfolio Holder Eastbourne Borough Council
The coronavirus pandemic has caused physical suffering and distress to millions across the world and it has also had a high financial cost.
Many businesses have closed and some large companies that have so far survived have lost billions of pounds. It has also had a huge impact upon the public sector with UK borrowing in the year to March 21 standing at £303 billion, the highest amount since records began in 1947. I am sure that it is only a matter of time before the Chancellor announces tax increases or departmental cuts in an attempt to balance the books.
As a result of Covid-19, our council lost £6m in income – pretty much overnight – from having to close our theatres and cancel all the conferences. A substantial part of our income-stream and far more than most other equivalent seaside towns. In fact, it represents around 60 per cent of our revenue.
I ask readers – if your household lost 60 per cent of its income – what would you do? Chances are you’d look to reduce spending or borrow money until things are back to normal. That’s exactly what we are doing. Indeed, it’s what the government is doing as it borrows to pay for the costs of the pandemic.
Earlier this year, we were given sign-off by the Government to borrow to pay for our services and balance our budgets for 2020 and 2021. We were only given approval to do so after a comprehensive examination of our finances and budgets by a government-appointed independent examiner. This independent examination demonstrated that we had sound plans in place and would take the right measures to be financially secure.
This week, as a Cabinet, we agreed to those measures and are making good progress with our programme of recovery and reset and its challenging saving targets. Some are perhaps overdue – like removing the second home subsidy for council tax. Others are harder. For years, councils across the country have cut grants as they have had to respond to the austerity measures of the Conservative Government.
We have resisted this – despite financial pressures – as we know how important our charities are to our town and we profoundly value the work that they do. They’re part of the very community fabric which makes Eastbourne so special. We are committed to working with our community groups to manage this change, and it is our hope that we can restore these grants as soon as we are financially able to do so.
It’s only right that I also take this opportunity to thank our dedicated staff at the council who have worked day and night to find ways of supporting the community. No more so than during Covid when our teams ran emergency hotlines and provided food supplies across Eastbourne.
These are difficult times, we all know that, but working together as a town I am confident Eastbourne will come through stronger than ever.