On Thursday 10 September, Angus Councillors will be asked to agree a raft of papers which describe the measures taken by the Council in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the harsh economic impacts that are now emerging as it moves through the recovery phases.
At their meeting, Full Council will hear that the pandemic has also resulted in significant reductions in income for the council as well as substantial additional costs, rendering the budget that was agreed in February this year in need of a major re-cast. They will consider, amongst other council business, the revised budgets and the updated Council and Workforce Plans which provide the strategy to support Angus citizens through the recovery phases while building towards a changing but optimistic future.
In addition, papers will show the unanticipated financial realities that coronavirus has had on ANGUSalive, as well as Angus Health & Social Care Partnership (AHSCP) and Tayside Contracts, all of which have their economic well-being aligned with Angus Council.
Provost Cllr Ronnie Proctor said, “This appalling pandemic has pervaded every corner of our society and I fear its repercussions will be felt for some time to come.
“Many citizens came forward through our third sector partners such as Voluntary Action Angus and worked tirelessly alongside our staff to help support communities during the worst period of lockdown. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude and we must ensure that we continue to have support in place for those who need it, when they need it. However, there is no doubt that the council faces some tough decisions and stark choices in the future.”
Council finances must be adjusted to maintain a balanced position and continue to support front-line service provision – no easy task given that the pandemic response and contingency measures are on-going and while the future threat posed by coronavirus remains unknown.
In what is an incredibly fast-moving environment, the revised budget will now have flexibility built-in so adjustments can be made quickly where changes in circumstances dictate.
Government funding provision since lockdown started has been significant. While more funding may yet be forthcoming, that cannot be relied upon and there is a hole of £3.700 million in the 20-21 revenue budget that requires to be filled.
This is being addressed with a number of measures being explored. These include an improved grant settlement and other adjustments, using uncommitted reserves, a change to the funding of teacher/school support staff and flexibility on previously ring-fenced funding for early years expansion which can be repurposed.
These measures amount to £4.601million, which officers recommend for use to bring the 2020-21 revenue budget back into balance. The identified surplus of £901,000 will be used as a new contingency against further financial impacts caused by Covid-19.
Council Tax for 2020-21 will not be affected by any adjustments made.
Cllr Macmillan Douglas, Deputy Leader and Finance Convenor said, “Officers have responded magnificently to help manage the pandemic. Few of the measures could have been implemented so well if the finances of Angus Council had not been so strong. The work done by the officers and the Administration over the last 3 and a half years to improve the efficiency of the Council created the headroom which has allowed us the manage the pandemic and maintain services for the citizens of Angus.’’
Angus Council Chief Executive Margo Williamson said, “I am very proud of the council’s outstanding response to this virus which is a testament to the effort and dedication of our staff. However, our fast-acting response has eaten into what were already tightly managed finances. I am grateful that the council was in the position to use uncommitted reserves due to considerable efforts over the years.
“Uncommitted reserves exist for emergencies and ensuring these are robust has helped us tremendously this financial year. Coupled with our accelerated moves towards home working, agile and digital services, this means that we were able to operate effectively throughout the lockdown. While still hugely challenging, we may be better placed than some in facing up to the demands and harm inflicted by the pandemic.
“We are asking members to act swiftly to agree the recommendations in a number of reports being placed before them at Council today. This is to ensure that we do all that we can to find solutions to the significant financial challenges we face in order to ensure the wellbeing of our citizens and resilience of our local businesses.”
With major revisions to the council’s Change Programme being reported to the Policy and Resources committee on Tuesday 1 September (report 208/20), it is clear that the council and its partners face difficult choices and need creative solutions to maintain service levels in the future.
AHSCP, jointly funded by Angus Council and NHS Tayside, has incurred significant additional costs as a result of the pandemic which may in due course impact on its contribution to the Change programme. However, it will not feature in any current budget revisions due to the continued commitment of Government to provide additional finance to HSCPs.
ANGUSalive, the arm’s length external organisation (ALEO) responsible for delivering sports, leisure and culture in Angus has also been severely impacted by coronavirus, in common with all the other ALEOs across the UK.
While the council provides a £3.901m (report 81/20) management fee, this only represents around 45 percent of overall operating costs, with the remaining 55 percent coming from income generated, predominately (88 percent) from the Sport and Leisure area of the business, which has been largely closed since March as a result of lockdown.
Despite a prudent fiscal approach since its creation on December 2015 which has seen the Trust build up reserves of £1.5m and contribute £600k to the council’s Change Programme, it now needs Council to approve a support package including radical redesign of services to secure its future.
Council Leader, Cllr David Fairweather said, “The unique circumstances of the sports, leisure and culture sector have been harsh and are likely to be enduring. We must do all that we can to support ANGUSalive and I am hopeful that, given the part they have to play in society’s recovery, government will also be supportive of them in their time of greatest need.
“As society moves from response to recovery and then renewal, we must ensure that our sports, leisure and culture providers are rescued from the perilous position they find themselves in through no fault of their own so that a local and national focus on physical and mental health and wellbeing is possible.
“ANGUSalive’s vision of changing lives by inspiring healthy, active and creative lifestyle choices resonates more strongly now than ever before as we go through and beyond this dreadful pandemic.”
Scottish Government’s route map through and out of the crisis provides a basis for starting to develop recovery plans that cover most of the services delivered by ANGUSalive.
Sport and Leisure have only recently been identified for re-opening in September but there is an added layer of complexity in that five of ANGUSalive’s seven sites are shared with schools. There is an over-riding national priority to retain children and young people in full-time education and that must remain our priority.
ANGUSalive’s current position is stark with the sport and leisure sector estimating it might take at least 18-24 months to rebuild and return to around 80 percent of income levels pre-lockdown.
Finding solutions is crucial to ANGUSalive’s future financial sustainability and survival.
Discussions are ongoing between Scottish Government and COSLA regarding support for councils and their culture and leisure trusts for lost income due the pandemic.
Angus Council and ANGUSalive senior management teams have been working together to assess the financial implications for the 2020/21 financial year and the Council and ANGUSalive continue to work together to ensure the financial sustainability of the Trust for the immediate and long-term future.