Posted: 21.07.21 at 17:52 by By Local Democracy Reporter Stephen Sumner
Key services in Bath and North East Somerset are under unprecedented pressure and some have been pushed to breaking point.
That was the stark warning from council lead Kevin Guy as residents were warned that things will get significantly worse before they get better.
Finance boss Richard Samuel said it was an “incredible achievement” to balance the books last year but now the authority is at a “very difficult moment”.
Financial pressures caused by the pandemic have seen a substantial loss of income from the council’s heritage, parking and commercial rent income, combined with new Covid-related expenditure.
Opening the cabinet meeting on July 20, Councillor Guy said: “At a time when central government’s messaging is all about freedom and an end to the dark days, I have to warn you that we are far from through the worst of the effects of this crisis, and, indeed, I expect things to get significantly worse before we can expect to see any real signs of improvement.
“The level of infections within the Bath and North East Somerset area is continuing to rise and is now higher than the general rate in England or within the South West region.”
The seven-day rate per 100,000 population in Bath and North East Somerset was, at July 15, 650.9 and the comparable England rate on same day was 473.5 per 100,000. There were 12 confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the RUH. There have been four notified Covid-19 deaths from the RUH this month.
“All of our key services are now under unprecedented strain, and some, I must be honest, are close to breaking point.
“I can’t promise that we will be able to maintain all our services at regular levels through the months to come.
“Some of our neighbouring councils are already suspending some refuse and other services in the face of the difficulties we are all encountering.”
Garden waste collections are being suspended across Bristol for 10 weeks because of a shortage of drivers, while large parts of Somerset are facing delays of up to seven days for bin collections amid an “unprecedented situation”.
B&NES Council already has staff self-isolating and expects the situation to worsen as case numbers rise.
Cllr Guy added: “The commitment of this council to deliver for its residents, whatever the challenges, remains undimmed.
“Our team remains determined to continue to deliver to the very best of its ability.”
Cllr Richard Samuel said it was an incredible achievement for the council to balance its books in 2020/21, “the most difficult year you could have imagined for a local authority”.
“I only hope we’ll be able to do the same this year,” he added.
“This represents a very dangerous moment for the council. There is a perfect storm developing here of adverse potential impacts on the council.
“We’re being let down seriously by our national government and our Prime Minister in particular. I fear for businesses in Bath and North East Somerset.
“I fear further waves of Covid. I fear that further waves will occur.
“I fear we’ll encounter further lockdowns that may affect our businesses. If that happens it will affect our tourist attractions.
“We’ve seen bad behaviour nationally that we all deplore – delays in locking down when the science told us that was not good advice, the huge muddle over Christmas last year, the delays that led to the third wave, the delays in imposing travel controls.
“Now we’re seeing the removal of restrictions just at a point when the case numbers are higher than they have been since the pandemic started.”
He said that coincides with the end of financial assistance to councils, the impending end of the furlough scheme and the removal of the Universal Credit top-up.
“This is abdication of leadership,” said Cllr Samuel.
“I find the insult of calling yesterday “freedom day” absolutely disgraceful.
“We may need to take further action to stabilise our finances and may need to call for further government funds so we can get through this. I sincerely hope that won’t be necessary.
“I hope residents understand that the months we’re going into are very precarious for the council.”
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