Working from home during pandemic saves council millions

Working from home and spending less money on business travel and printing costs during the coronavirus pandemic has helped Gloucestershire County Council save more than £3 million over the past year.

The council has reported an overall revenue budget underspend of £3.153 million during 2020/21 and cabinet members have agreed to put the money aside for a rainy day.

One of the underlying factors that has led to this underspend is the reduction in operating costs as a result of changing working patterns and practises during the pandemic.

The council spent £2.06 million less on premises related costs, £1.13 million less on staff business travel and £142,000 less on office expenses such as printing, when compared to the previous financial year.

Council leaders have also thanked the Government who they say “has not skimped” in its support for local authorities during the pandemic.

The council’s cost of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic was £22.901 million in 2020/21 which was funded by a £33.847 million Covid Emergency Grant and the forecast reimbursement of £3.530 million of lost sales, fees and charges.

The remaining £10.946 million of Section 31 covid emergency grant will be carried forward to fund the continuing cost of responding to the pandemic during the current financial year.

However, despite the good outturn, councillors are wary of the financial risks posed by the costs relating to the care of the county’s most vulnerable children and adults.

Those demand-led budget areas were subject to significant volatility due to changes in numbers and care needs.

Council leaders say this will need to be monitored closely during the new financial year and cabinet agreed to transfer the £3.153 million overspend to general reserves.

Finance and change cabinet member Lynden Stowe said: “We have had good support from the Government in the last year in respect of the cost incurred through Covid. And there has been no impact on this council.

“What we are not too clear about is how much of that might actually be needed to come back into our expenditure for next year.

“So, it is the correct thing on this occasion to increase our general reserves by this underspend figure.

“That having been said, we put some markers down as to some of the suggestions we would like to see developing

“To clarify, we’ve put in place £1 million to establish a Gloucestershire restart fund. Details of that will be available shortly.

“We will be adding £530,000 into the electric vehicle infrastructure fund.

“We have put the extra £10,000 per member into the additional highways local funding and we will be putting extra funding into fire and rescue improvements and to fund additional bridge and structural maintenance.

“So, it is all very good news.”

However, he warned the council needed to be cautious as there was still an overspend related to children’s services.

“We increased our budget by a fair amount this year. Hopefully we will have that under control,” cllr Stowe added.

Council leader Mark Hawthorne praised the work of officers and thanked the Government for the funding they have provided during the pandemic.

“It does reflect the huge amount of hard work over a difficult record.

“The Government has not skimped on providing local government with the funding it has needed through a difficult period of time.”

Gazette Series Gloucestershire