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Coronavirus hits council income

Wednesday, 8 April 2020 10:53

By Daniel Clark, Local Democracy Reporting Service

Exeter car parking charges almost obliterated

Exeter City Council is set to lose around £1m a month as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at Tuesday night’s executive meeting, Karime Hassan, Chief Executive and Growth Director of Exeter City Council, said that the impact of the lockdown imposed by the Government was beginning to bite on the finances of the council.

He said that as people have been asked to stay at home, footfall in the city centre has dropped dramatically, ‘an outcome that we want to achieve’, but he said it was having an impact on income streams.

Mr Hassan said that a significant impact was being felt by the reduced in car parking income, which last week was 98.8 per cent down on the budgeted target set in February.

He said: “We took £1,954 of income last week against budget of £160,000. The week before, we took in £9,000 of income against a target budget of £171,000. The lockdown is likely to go for some time and we are currently losing around in terms of income between £1m to £1.2m a month.”

Mr Hassan said that this was going on across the country and having a direct impact on income sources for all councils and the effects of this were being relayed to central government, who were aware of the issues their decision making and lockdown restrictions were having on local government.

The meeting heard that while the accounts at the end of the 2019/20 year saw Exeter City Council hold £4.3m in their general fund balance reserves, well above the minimum required or recommended to hold, the loss of income was going to deplete that unless funding was received and that there was an immediate cash flow issue that the council has to address with funds from the collection of council tax and business rates having to be passed on by the end of the month.

Mr Hassan said: “Cash flow is an issue for us and we hope the government will do something quickly. In the longer term, it depends on the length of the lockdown and the exit strategy, but we need to be aware of the financial challenges that we will have and how to find a solution.”

As a result of the financial hit in the short term that the lockdown was having, a series of items from the agenda, which if agreed, would have seen capital schemes amounting to £6.357m committed, were deferred until the next meeting.

Councillors were due to vote on £112,000 of spending to reduce likelihood of incursions at 16 green spaces in the city, £2m to address the increase in costs of the current refurbishment and the lifecycle replacement cost of the roof at the Riverside leisure centre, £150,000 to complete the production of detailed business cases for the future provision of a Community Sports Village and Swimming Pool at the Exeter Arena site, £250,000 for replacing one of the main roofs at Exeter Corn Exchange, £95,000 for modifying the Exmouth Buoy Store, and £3.9m on essential repairs and refurbishment works at the Cathedral and Quay car park.

But at the start of the meeting, Cllr Phil Bialyk, leader of the council, said that as a result of the financial impact the coronavirus outbreak was having and the lack of certainty over income and funding, it was right to put the items on the backburner and defer them until the next meeting in June.

He said that the reports were all accurate and structured correctly but it was inappropriate to identify funding for those projects at this moment in time.

Cllr Bialyk added that while £1.4m was to be spent on undertaking essential structural repairs and associated refurbishment at Cathedral and Quay car park, he had been assured that there was no health and safety issue for the car park that delaying the decision by two months would result in.

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