ST HELENS Borough Council has made an urgent funding request from central government to help it avoid making cuts that will do “long-term harm”.

A cross-party letter has been sent to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick today, following on from a letter sent in April setting out the dire outlook for the authority as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The council is currently projecting a budget gap of £20.4 million for 2021-2022 – although this does not assess the impact of the current wave.

The letter, which has been signed by the leaders of all parties on the council and St Helens’ two MPs, says this “threatens every essential frontline service we provide”.

“We remain grateful for the support government offered at the start of the pandemic to businesses, charities, and to local government, and we are well aware that this is still a fast-moving environment with local lockdowns and some further support specifically for Covid available,” the letter says.

“We are also aware that as part of the recent talks regarding our borough moving into Tier 3 restrictions there was a commitment from government to address in year pressures.

“However, despite the extra funding we have so far been given and these latest assurances, we remain extremely concerned that our council still currently faces a budget gap of around £20 million in the next twelve months, and we write to you today to emphasise the urgency of this situation.”

Council chiefs are currently developing an emergency budget for this financial year in light of the budget gap, with all council services coming under review.

Earlier this month, the council’s cabinet member for finance and governance, Martin Bond, told cabinet the situation was “grave for local government”.

A budget strategy report presented at the meeting said a “major programme of savings” will be needed in order to deliver of a balanced budget for 2021-2022.

“We are currently having to develop an emergency budget, and without your help we will have no choice but to make cuts to services that will result in long-term harm to the communities and residents we serve,” said the letter sent to Mr Jenrick today.

“As we stated in our earlier letter, even before Covid-19 we were facing a difficult and uncertain financial situation.

“Our council budget for 2020-21 already included £5 million in savings and £5 million use of one-off emergency reserves in order to balance the budget, and the added costs and losses from our fight against the virus make our situation even more perilous.”

Here is the letter in full: 

St Helens Star:

St Helens Star: