Increased financial reserves – built as a result of an innovative investment policy over the last few years – will help Thurrock Council weather the financial fallout that will follow the global coronavirus pandemic, as all councils across the country begin to look at the services they deliver again.
That was the message from Cllr Shane Hebb, Cabinet member for finance, at Thurrock Council's Cabinet meeting last week (17 June).
Cllr Hebb said: "Residents anticipate that there will be economic impacts from COVID-19. From a council perspective, with a reduction in people paying Council Tax, an increase of benefit payments, and reduced income from services which have fees – such as theatre tickets, registrar services and the like – Thurrock is no different from other councils and we will need to ensure that we reform services and our capital programme to weather the storm ahead.
"Thankfully, Thurrock Council is better placed to face the upcoming financial challenge than many local authorities thanks to our prudential financial planning, largely enabled by an innovative approach to commercial investment.
"Over the past few years we have increased our reserves by 40% and built an additional £6million financial resilience reserve. On top of that we have a further social services reserve of £1.5million which will only ever be used for extraordinary service pressures, not day-to-day spending.
"These levels of reserves mean that we can cover short-term financial gaps while the economy recovers without having to resort to quick, long-term cuts which could take years to repair.
"We will also ensure that any reserves used are repaid year-on-year over the next five years to ensure we continue to maintain a safe and secure ‘rainy day’ reserves fund.
"Our commercial investments are continuing to deliver income and they have allowed us to go above and beyond what is expected of a council in previous years. As we emerge from this pandemic that will allow us to make service adjustments at a more considered pace and continue towards our objective of self-sufficiency.
"We have always been mindful to ensure we have stronger financial resilience and, in this time of unprecedented crisis, it will stand us in good stead as we rebuild the Thurrock economy."