REPORTS on Bath & North East Somerset Council’s finances reveal that early action to deal with losses arising from the pandemic has brought the council’s finances back on track, delivering a balanced budget for 2020/21 and enabling it to continue to invest in the priorities it set out in its budget this February.
But the 2021/22 forecast does highlight that losses from heritage income might result in a projected £1.9 million overspend at the end of the financial year without further action.
The reports highlight how – despite the pandemic – the council delivered an on-budget outturn in 2020/21, with a slight improvement to its predicted end-of-year accounts. This was due to the early actions taken by the council to ensure financial recovery from income losses, especially in heritage and parking, as well as further underspends in adult social care services and the receipt of additional Covid Grant. The favourable outturn means the council can press ahead with its capital investment plans.
The reports make it clear that further financial challenges lie ahead unless additional grant funding is forthcoming as Covid restrictions continue to impact income, particularly from the Roman Baths.
Councillor Richard Samuel, deputy council leader and cabinet member for Resources and Economic Development, said: ‘I am delighted that through our early action in the face of the pandemic and our prudent financial management we’ve been able to stabilize the council’s finances without drawing too heavily on our reserves. It is a significant achievement considering the financial pressures caused by the pandemic with substantial loss of income from our heritage, parking and commercial rent income combined with new Covid related expenditure.
“We are in a position where we can press ahead with delivering on our Corporate Strategy commitments, particularly relating to tackling the climate and ecological emergency. However, there are words of caution that I’d like to say. If the third wave is followed by a fourth wave and further restrictions that affect our key income streams are imposed, I have not ruled out the need to take emergency action to control expenditure this year as I did last year. I’m under no illusions that we are out of the woods yet and we will continue to face financial challenges posed by the pandemic for a number of years.”
The budget agreed by council in February this year allocated £9.11 million of investment in schemes which tackle the climate and ecological emergency, including two new Renewable Energy Funds totalling £1.9 million for renewable energy projects and to retrofit the council’s own energy plant and equipment, as well as support for the natural environment through the £5.11 million Bath River Line project.
Investment plans for the climate and ecological emergency have received a boost through Public Sector Decarbonation Programme projects for Cleveland Pools and Charlton House, bringing the total capital allocation to £10.109 million. Funding has also been earmarked for transport schemes including a £2.2 million investment in Liveable Neighbourhoods. The council’s cabinet will be told next week that the authority is well-placed to sustain its investment programme as its total borrowing of £243.5 million remains well below its provisional Capital Financing Requirement of £326.9 million