September 24th 2020.

Lewes District Council has made a number of announcements following meetings today.

Council Leader: ‘We will overcome financial impact of Covid-19’
The Leader of Lewes District Council has said the Covid-19 financial challenge ‘will not define the future of the authority’ as plans are agreed to identify savings alongside new ways of working.

The coronavirus pandemic has left councils all over the UK facing significant budget deficits due to the loss of income during lockdown and extra costs associated with their response to the crisis.

Cabinet councillors today approved a recovery and reset programme that will see a senior team of council officers scrutinising every facet of the council’s operation for efficiencies.

The Covid-19 crisis has created a budget deficit in 2020/2021 of £4 million, with an estimated £7.9 million cost to the authority over the next four years.

Councillor James MacCleary, Leader of Lewes District Council, said: “When the coronavirus hit the UK, the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick MP, promised to recompense local authorities for the unplanned expenditure arising from the pandemic and loss of income. To date we have only seen a fraction of that funding from government.

“Our officers continue to work closely with the MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) to find a sustainable solution and I hope the outcome of these discussions reflects the earlier commitments made by Mr Jenrick.”

The recovery and reset programme will focus on four key principles; the best use of digital technology, reshaping service delivery, the best use of the council’s assets, such as buildings, and supporting the restart of the local economy, including preparedness in the event of any resurgence in the coronavirus, all delivered in tandem with support for the council’s corporate priorities.

Councillor MacCleary added: “The programme will build on the changing way people have been accessing services over the last six months, most notably online through our website, email and webchats.

“This understanding coupled with further consultation, internally and externally, will help shape the sustainable and resilient services our residents and businesses rely on.

“We will overcome the financial impact of Covid-19 and it certainly will not define the future of the authority, but there will be significant changes as we adapt to it.”

LEAP of faith as council pledges support for business entrepreneurs

Lewes District Council has agreed to continue its business support programmes for a further three years.

Councillors agreed that the Local Enterprise & Apprenticeship Platform (LEAP) had proved a great success, having supported and encouraged more than 250 local people with either a desire to start their own business or to help them grow their enterprise.

Over the next three years, LEAP will support up to 650 businesses and entrepreneurs with access to services and programmes extended, creating an economic boost to the region and the opportunity to grow and recruit a local workforce.

Councillor James MacCleary, Leader of Lewes District Council and Cabinet member for Regeneration and Prosperity, said he was delighted that LEAP had proved so successful and that the council was able to nurture it and encourage it to go from strength to strength.

“This is a great platform that has shown tangible and measurable benefits to our home-grown band of entrepreneurs,” Cllr MacCleary said. “We have allocated just over £100k for the next three years to allow this vital support programme to continue. I think it represents a great investment in home-grown talent and businesses and I look forward to seeing the results over the coming months and years.”

Cllr MacCleary said that having a great idea was a vital element, but being able to count on expert support and guidance could help give the idea wings and see it fly.

He added: “During these hugely challenging Covid times, the council needs to take on the important role of providing support, understanding and funding to fledgling business ideas. Our support for LEAP is the right thing to do and I have no hesitation in giving it my full backing.”

Edeal will continue to guide and deliver the LEAP business support services including the annual Business Start-up programme through a team of highly skilled mentors.

Council agrees £500,000 loan for Lewes district leisure centres
Lewes District Council is providing a £500,000 loan to Wave Leisure Trust to help restart gym, swim and exercise classes for people across the Lewes district amid the trust’s financial difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Cabinet members agreed the financial support at a meeting today after hearing that Wave, a long-term council partner, is facing a deficit of around £1.5million by the end of this year due to lockdown, coronavirus restrictions and being ineligible for various government support schemes.

The government instructed all leisure centres to close on March the 20th and they were allowed to re-open from July the 25th only if strict health and safety measures including social distancing were put in place.

Unlike the other local authorities Wave partners with to provide leisure facilities, Lewes District Council does not pay the trust a service fee.

Councillor Zoe Nicholson, Cabinet member for Finance, said: “It is of vital importance that residents across the Lewes district are able to access leisure facilities within a safe environment for the benefit of their physical and mental wellbeing, especially during this challenging time.

“Wave is not alone among the country’s leisure operators in facing financial hardship but its difficulties are compounded because the government has failed to fulfil its promises and provide support to leisure services like Wave all over the country.

“We have had a long and successful relationship with Wave, which is an award-winning provider as a charitable trust, and we cannot let it fail because the government can’t fulfil its responsibilities.”

Cllr Ruth O Keeffe, Cabinet member for Tourism and Devolution, said: "Significantly, Wave has previously demonstrated to us that it has increased participation and reduced health inequality across our district, as well as improving accessibility and social inclusion. It is important that we support the continuation of this excellent work."

Wave has prepared a re-mobilisation plan for sites to re-open in three phases with a focus on providing gym, swim and booked-only group exercise classes.

Covid-19 safety measures include Removal of turnstiles, erection of screens at reception points, hand sanitiser stations and one-way systems.

Deputy Leader calls on Secretary of State to ‘Step up and fulfil his commitment to local government’

Cabinet councillors endorsed the authority’s medium-term financial strategy (MTFS) and appealed to the Secretary of State for Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, to ‘step up and fulfil his commitment to local government’.

Robert Jenrick assured councils back in March that the extra local spending needed in response to the Covid-19 crisis, would be met by the government. As a consequence, the unbudgeted costs and loss of income has left Lewes District Council with an estimated £4 million deficit in 2020/2021 and £7.9 million over the next four years.

Councillor Zoe Nicholson, Deputy Leader of the Council, said: “It’s very simple, Robert Jenrick must step up and fulfil his commitment to local government and make sure we receive the funding that he promised, no ifs or buts, our most vulnerable residents are relying on him to do the right thing.”

The MTFS sets the strategic financial direction for the Council and is regularly updated as it evolves and develops throughout the year to form the framework for the council’s financial planning.

Council officers are working closely with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to formulate a financial solution and combat the impact of Covid-19 for residents and businesses.

Aimed at reducing the estimated budget shortfall, a recovery and reset programme has also been instigated to radically scrutinise every area of the council’s operation and introduce new ways of delivering services.

Councillor Nicholson added: “I remain so immensely proud of the way the council continues to respond to this hideous pandemic, with so many good people going above and beyond their normal duties to help the most vulnerable.

“It is unthinkable that the government won’t ensure our finances are adequately restored so our work in all communities in the district can continue unhindered.”
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