Bedford Borough Council faces over £1m funding shortfall as council tax income drops due to pandemic

Council admits the funding gap will be an increased burden

Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 2:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 2:32 pm

A dramatic drop in council tax income during the coronavirus pandemic has left Bedford Borough Council facing a funding shortfall of more than £1 million, new figures reveal.

Data from the Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Communities shows the council will have to address an estimated shortfall of £1,151,613.

A Government scheme should help to plug the funding gap, while the deficit will be spread over three years and split between the area's Police and Crime Commissioner, the local fire service, and the council as billing authority.

The council has an estimated shortfall of £1,151,613

A Bedford Borough Council spokesman said: “This decrease in income generated through council tax has been taken into account when setting the budgets for our services this year. However, it will have an increased burden on the council and represents a further funding gap that we have had to address.

“These new financial pressures reflect the challenges that residents have faced throughout the pandemic. We will continue to provide financial support to residents where we can and anyone facing difficulties paying their council tax should speak to our Local Taxation team to discuss payment options.”

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, a trade body, has warned that the end of Government-funded Covid support could make it even more difficult for councils to repay the deficit.

The collection fund represents income and expenditure relating to council tax and business rates, with estimates used to help set local authority budgets.

In response to the pandemic, the Government asked councils to estimate the impact of Covid-19 on the collection of funds for 2020-21.

Just 41 local authorities expect a surplus in council tax income while more than 250 reported estimated deficits of between £14,000 and £17 million.

The national anticipated deficit across all councils in England rises to £546 million when surpluses are not taken into account, the data shows.

But the figures do not reflect councils' overall financial position after other funding and spending is accounted for, nor the impact of the tax income guarantee scheme announced by the Government in November.

Under this scheme, local authorities will be reimbursed for up to 75 per cent of irrecoverable council tax and business rate losses, with payments expected to begin in the near future.

Rob Whiteman of the CIPFA said this will compensate councils for a “large chunk” of the deficit.

He added: “Ultimately, this financial hole isn’t as deep as it looks.

“But with the Government ending Covid support by the end of the year, it’s hard to see how councils will be able to afford to repay the remaining deficit without additional ‘help’ from taxpayers in the future.”

Separate MHCLG figures show that, across England, council overspend due to the pandemic totalled around £6.9 billion in March, while losses were calculated at around £5.1 billion.

An MHCLG spokesperson said: “We’ve committed over £36 billion to help councils support their communities and local businesses during the pandemic.

“We’re also providing councils with £670 million of new grant funding to enable them to continue reducing council tax bills for those least able to pay, including households financially hard-hit by the pandemic.”