A plan to help the Chichester District recover from the spring lockdown is on track in the latest update report to council leaders.
A review of Chichester District Council’s COVID Recovery Plan was presented to the council’s Cabinet at its meeting on Tuesday 3 November 2020.
The COVID Recovery Plan covers four key areas: community and housing; the economy; planning, health and environmental protection; and the organisation. In addition, there is also a Future Services Framework which is a process for developing a longer term plan which looks ahead to 2022 - 2023. This will help councillors shape and set the types and levels of services to be provided during this period. Councillors review both plans every three months.
Key achievements highlighted in the report include:
- Paying out £37 million in Business Rate grants to support businesses
- Paying out £237,000 in the first six months of this financial year through Hardship Fund payments to support individuals with their Council Tax who have been financially affected due to Covid-19.
- A successful joint bid with Stonepillow to the Next Steps fund to support rough sleepers
- Setting up a £250,000 Community Recovery Grant fund.
- Progressing the St James Industrial Estate refurbishment project.
- Achieving the highest ever occupancy levels at the Enterprise Centre with 100% of the workshops occupied and 85% of the office space let.
- Letting all units at the council-owned Ravenna Point industrial site.
- Securing further pooled business rates funding of £80,000 to support the high street.
- Setting up a £250,000 Economic Recovery grant.
- Prioritising how to improve services for residents on the council’s website.
- Enabling staff to switch back to working from home and deliver services remotely once again following the change in Government guidance.
Council Leader, Eileen Lintill also said that good progress was being made to address a significant funding gap caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Originally it was anticipated that the council’s deficit for this financial year could be more than £8 million, largely due to reduced income from, sales, fees and charges which help fund services. In addition it was predicted that a further deficit of £2 million per year was likely by the end of the next five-year financial planning period (2025-26), and that the council would have to use £24 million of savings.
However, over recent months and especially after lockdown restrictions were eased, the council’s income has gradually improved, while the Government announced a support package for councils struggling from an income reduction in sales, fees and charges.
As a result, the current financial year’s deficit has now been revised and is likely to be in the region of £3.2 million. In the summer Council also agreed that an efficiency review should be carried out to find out where savings could be made or where new income streams could be generated.
“This year has been extremely difficult and continues to be so with the announcement of another lockdown from Thursday ,” says Councillor Lintill. “The financial postion is more optimistic than in the summer , but things are still very finely balanced.
“Results of the efficiency review that we have been carrying out are promising, and at this point in time it looks likely that we will be able to plug the majority of the funding gap with the savings made through this which will help us to protect frontline services.
“As a result, this means that we may only need to draw against £6 million of reserves over the next five years. Without the efficiency savings, then we would instead have to draw against £14 million of reserves. As part of the review, we have also identified some additional income generation opportunities.
“Despite the good progress being made, I must stress that with the second lockdown just announced, we are far from being out of the woods yet. At the moment we have to focus on delivering our statutory services, these are the services which we are legally required to deliver by the Government such as housing and planning services. In addition, we are also carrying out a prioritisation review of our non-statutory services to see what further we can deliver to our communities within the current financial constraints. Our aim is to return to a balanced budget over the medium term.
“This situation is still extremely uncertain, and we will need to remain flexible so that we can react quickly and adapt to any changes during this very challenging period, but I am confident that together we will.”