The coronavirus crisis is having a huge effect on businesses as their income falls off a cliff. The Government has rightly stepped in to help with grants, loans and business rate holidays.
Ipswich Borough Council is facing many of the same challenges and some unique ones.
We too have seen a large drop in income as our swimming pools, sports centres and entertainment venues have all closed down.
Car parks usage has plummeted as people stay away from the town centre.
Community and voluntary organisations renting property from the council have been given a three-month rent holiday that has reduced our income by another £80,000.
But we are also facing a large increase in costs.
All homeless people and those sleeping rough must be housed during the crisis. We have block-booked 35 rooms in a local hotel – most of which are now occupied – but this is costing well over £100,000.
Administering the grant scheme for local businesses and giving discounts to businesses and low-income households is a large and costly logistical exercise.
Benefits claims are running at five times the normal rate so we have increased the number of staff dealing with claims so they can be paid in a timely manner.
We have had to increase the number of staff taking phone calls not only because general inquiries have increased but because we are also dealing with local calls from “Home, But Not Alone”.
The number of parks patrol staff who ensure that social distancing measures are adhered to has been increased so we can keep parks open.
We estimate all this has had a £1.7million impact on the Council’s finances for April alone. If the current situation lasts a year, losses would mount to £14million.
The Government has pledged to compensate councils but the amount we have received so far is just £82,000 – only enough to cover our losses for a day and a half. In contrast, Suffolk County Council has received over £20million.
More money for councils has been promised but if the Government doesn’t ensure district councils like Ipswich get a bigger share this time, we will be facing with the unenviable choice of either having to slash services or effectively go bust.