Exclusive: £1.6bn COVID-19 response fund an 'initial down payment' minister says

 

Housing minister Simon Clarke has told planning authorities that the £1.6bn to help councils tackle the coronavirus is an 'initial down payment', and he is keen to find ‘shovel ready' local projects to support economic recovery.

Mr Clarke (pictured) made the comments in a briefing call involving 250 members of the District Councils Network (DCN).

”Local

In a summary document circulated to DCN members, and seen by Transport Network, it states: 'Minister, Simon Clarke MP: Thanks to work of district councils. Recognised financial pressure councils were under and working hard to understand these, recognised the initial £1.6bn funding is down payment.

'Spoke about important role of councils in supporting ‘shielded community’ and working on issues on data/food. Focused on increasing PPE. Working on guidance on burials. Keen to identify key ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure projects to support economic recovery.'

DCN members put forward a range of issues and concerns to the minister, including the major financial impact on planning authorities from the slowdown in housing and infrastructure construction.

The briefing document states there 'is likely to be a massive impact on home completions and knock on effects on councils’ finances and growth'.

It suggests that Government should waive the five-year Housing Land Supply and all requirements for Local Plans and called for 'protection from judicial reviews and appeal on planning applications determined online without ability of all residents to join in'.

DCN also called for the £25m Towns Fund money (over five years) to be 'devolved to all 101 fund locations and let those districts get on with supporting those areas'.

The document states: 'John Fuller, DCN Chair: Introduction focused on how districts have stepped up to meet the needs of residents and businesses. Outlined significant financial pressures on districts resulting from income, expenditure and cashflow. Suggested districts will be crucial in delivering the ‘final mile’, and shaping the future for areas.'

Members provided examples of their additional costs during the crisis. These included:

  • ‘Annual revenue £9.5m, projected to lose £2.5m in short term’
  • ‘In Harborough we received approx. £31K support, yet we have lost income and costs are of in excess of £0.5m so far’.
  • ‘Our share of the £1.6bn was £60k - not even a third of what we spent on homelessness let alone anything else... When will we get additional financial support?’
  • ‘Our loss is looking at 20% of our overall income in 16 weeks, our reserves are at CIPFA minimum’.
  • ‘General £1.5 million loss and HRA losing £700k from rent arrears.’

DCN also called for a clear exit strategy and said the recovery 'will likely take 12-18 months'. Members suggested devolution could be put on hold 'to let us crack on?’

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