Fife Council facing £78m coronavirus bill

Soaring costs of lockdown revealed in latest report
Coronavirus exit strategyCoronavirus exit strategy
Coronavirus exit strategy

Fife Council’s bill for managing the coronavirus pandemic has soared to almost £78m - more than double the initial estimate.

The gross estimate could mean a final bill of around £50m.

Councillors have been warned of the “far reaching consequences” on their budgets for some time to come as they look to bring buildings and services back out of lockdown.

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The latest forecasts will be discussed at Thursday’s meeting of the planning and co-ordination committee.

The full extent of the impact of the pandemic is spelled out in a report from senior officers.

The short-term cost of battling through the first 14 weeks of the crisis was put at £30m, but, that figure has rocketed to £78m - which wipes out the £21m bail out from the Scottish Government.

The bills for dealing with the emergency have poured in at a time when revenue streams - everything from parking charges to leisure centres, childcare and school meals - have all dried up.

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Eileen Rowand, executive director of finance and corporate services said in a report: “Dealing with the emergency and critical responses resulting from the COVID 19 pandemic will have far reaching and potentially significant impact on the council’s finances and resources”

And she warned: “It is apparent that the financial implications will be significantly higher over the course of the year as the council changes and adapts to some of the measures that will need to be implemented in order to operate safely.”

The grim financial picture was revealed as councillors studied the long-term picture, and the extent of the fundamental changes to be made to its operations across the board.

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They face major costs reconfiguring schools, office buildings and construction sites to comply with social distancing, and are braced for rises in non payment of rent, rates and Council Tax as residents and businesses struggle to make ends meet.

They are also in talks with all arms length organisations, including OnFife - which runs almost 50 venues covering theatres, galleries, museums and libraries - about on-going support.

More claims are also coming in from contractors hit by the lockdown, and the council is legally obliged to pay up.

Councillors were warned it was unlikely the council will return to business as usual in terms of how it operated before lockdown, and they faced “extensive amount of preparation and alternative working arrangements” as part of the move out of lockdown.

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Councillor David Alexander, co-leader, accepted there were big challenges ahead, but he said: “We have substantial mitigating sources of funding and the report going to the policy and resources committee anticipates a nett cost of £50 million. This is still a tough nut to crack but we have been here before.”

Stressing the numbers were estimates, he continued: “I am confident we will reduce this number further. It will be difficult to clear it in this financial year but is certainly achievable over two.”

“It’s important sums like this do not alter our determination to concentrate on providing support for vulnerable families, opening up our schools, and doing what we can to get people back to work and the economy working.

“The public services in Fife and Scotland have risen to the challenge magnificently and I,m sure we will continue make a difference.”

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