‘Not all in this together’ after huge coronavirus funds shortfall

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People in Sefton claim it "does not feel like we're all in this together" after a £40 million shortfall in coronavirus funds, according to two Merseyside MPs.

The six boroughs in the Liverpool City Region received less than half of the £239 million they are estimated to need from the government to weather the coronavirus crisis.

It was revealed last week that a share of a £3.2 billion support package from central government for Merseyside councils had fallen between March and April.

The city region expected the pandemic to cost local authorities £239 million in lost income and extra expenses over a period of six months.

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However, the government has only allocated £102.4 million in extra funding, which will only cover the impact of the crisis for less than three months.

Sefton Council is currently facing the largest shortfall, having received just £17.6 million of the coroanvirus funds while predicting costs of £58 million – a gap of 70%.

Now Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson and and Bootle MP Peter Dowd have together penned a letter asking the government to make sure the local authority is "fully funded to cope" with the crisis.

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In a tweet, Mr Dowd said: "Let’s make sure that we really are all in it altogether and the Tories aren’t cherry picking which councils, usually Tory ones, they support."

Part of the letter addressed to MP Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government said: "The figures in the table set out within Steve Rotheram's letter are stark for all authorities but particularly so in relation to Sefton Council.

"They show the estimated impact in relations to cost and loss of income is £58 million and the 'gap' between support and estimated income is £40.46 million or a massive 70%.

"This is neither right nor fair. It does not feel like 'we are all in this together' and our constituents certainly do not feel that."

The letter goes on to ask a number of questions including whether the government proposes to fully support the council's loss of income, council tax and business rates and if so when.

The MPs also asked whether a Section 114 notice, an order which bans all new expenditure apart from statutory services for protecting vulnerable people, would be avoided.

The letter from the MPs said: "Will the council's cash flow be protected in order to avoid the crude reductions of essential services that are needed by residents and communities at this time and to ensure that Section 114 notices under the provision of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 are avoided?"

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A spokesperson for Sefton Council at the time said: “In this evolving situation the council continues to evaluate the financial impact of the pandemic both in terms of the cost of supporting local residents and communities but also on its wider in-year budget.

“Central government has made some funding available to the council to address the additional demand faced.

“However, as with most local authorities, this will be insufficient and additional support will be required to support the council’s budget throughout 2020/21 and beyond.”