Agenda item

Financial Issues - Covid 19

(Leader) To consider the attached report (C-003-2020-21).




(1)          The Cabinet discussed the report and agreed the actions and priorities set out in sections 2 and 3.

(2)          The Cabinet agreed to review detailed investment proposals at their July Cabinet meeting.

(3)          The Cabinet noted that a further report including details of intended proposals and purchases would be taken to Cabinet in July.



The Leader introduced the updating report on how the Covid 19 situation was affecting the Financial position of the Council. He noted that we were in unprecedented times and praised officers for doing a good job both for residents and local businesses. He noted that they had delivered 97% of government grants to businesses in record time.


The Council had lost something in the region of £900k a month in Business Rates, Council Tax, Leisure income and Car Parking fees and this would be ongoing for some time yet. They were hoping to see recovery start from July onwards, but the expected loss of income could be in the region of £6million, depending on what the recovery looked like.


They have a vision for the future including the St John’s Road project and the Accommodation Project as indicated elsewhere in this agenda. Also, part of their vision to move forward from Covid recovery was to set up a cross party Covid Recovery Portfolio Holder Advisory Group.


Councillor Philip noted that the start of this crisis had started at the end of the last financial year and some of the impact would be seen on the accounts for that financial year, causing a reduction. Initial indications would be that we would have some degree of underspend and clearly, we would not be able to do everything we would like to do. Some difficult decisions would have to be made. He hoped to give a verbal update at the next meeting.


Councillor Patel noted that we needed viable High Streets but with ongoing support. The Covid legacy would be felt for the next 10 years and this would need to be a cross council endeavour to do something positive for our residents.


Councillor Avey noted that Epping Town had its first Market today for some time, it was smaller than usual but still successful.


Councillor Bedford would like to acknowledge that officers had already started making contact with Town and Parish Councils as soon as the government had talked about lifting some of the Covid restrictions. They have also ordered over a thousand place markers to go on the floor and pavements to be made available to local councils.


Councillor Janet Whitehouse asked about the relationship between the proposed Advisory Group and the existing High Street Task and Finish Panel. The Leader said that the Task and Finish Panel was under the remit of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, but he saw them working together as there would be some joined up thinking involved.


Councillor Heap asked what was the projected debt at the end of this year and were we still on track to repay the debt from last year. N Dawe said that they could provide the current assumptions in writing tomorrow as they were revisiting the assumptions in light of the current situation. They were looking at refinancing the debt.


Councillor Heap said he was asking as he understood there would still be borrowing for Quails. Councillor Philip noted that we would have as much as £6million in loss of income due to the Covid situation and this would have to be factored into our medium-term financial strategy. And maybe this strategy would have to be reworked, depending on what would happen over the next three months.  Councillor Heap added that we were borrowing on assumption made before the Covid crisis, were we now borrowing at the wrong rate and should it be renegotiated?


Councillor Murray said he was vey impressed on how the staff responded to the crisis. He asked if the advisory group that was to be set up would work with all parties, especially a representative from Loughton. The Leader answered that yes, it would have cross party and cross district representation.


Councillor Murray added he had heard the assumptions made; but retail may not go back to pre-Covid levels and suggested that shopping would never really return to normal and would need our help. This was bigger than what EFDC could do. The Leader agreed saying that nothing would go back to how it was, a lot would be beyond our control, but we would still have to do our best for our residents.


Councillor Jon Whitehouse highlighted the need for support for the voluntary sector, this had not gone away and we would still need to keep our eyes on it. Also, the costs for these initiatives were not in the report. Also, what were the proposals for bringing together the mentioned six business proposals, were the existing officer networks to be involved and how inclusive was this to be. The Leader said some of the answers would be drawn from the Covid recovery response advisory group and some would come forward with the detailed report going to the July Cabinet meeting.  We must also take into account the homelessness issues brought up by this crisis. We were working on them all.


Councillor Chris Pond asked what proportion of EFDC commercial tenants and those of Qualis had not paid their rents by the quarter day of 25th March, and what was the estimate for the numbers unlikely to pay by the mid-summer quarter. N Dawe answered that there had been no default on Qualis tenancies, we have some companies who have not made their first quarter payment and we were in discussions with them. I will give you details at a later date.


Councillor Pond asked about the possibility raised about café and restaurants taking over parts of the pavement. This would need to be done with extreme caution, as there was a need to consider the disabled and to also keep social distancing. The Leader said that was most helpful and something that they would give close attention to. Every High Street was very different, and they would be looked at individually. N Dawe noted that this did not form part of the Cabinet report. However, officers did look at this and noted that the pavements came under Essex County Council control and the points made about disabled access and distancing had also been noted.


As for the Financial aspects raised earlier, the budget was put together when the price of borrowing was assumed to be 3% subsequently, we had been in further discussions and it could be reduced to around 2.5%. So, the overall structure of the arrangements remained sound.


Councillor Neville hoped that any businesses that have benefited from our help were locally owned and then asked when the Portfolio Holder Advisory Group would be set up. The Leader said that the advisory group would be set up soon; and they always looked to local people first, which was at the heart of everything that we did in Epping Forest. We also want to make sure we brought jobs to the area and he had asked Councillor Philip to look at how we could encourage businesses to establish here. It may be that not many people would want to travel into London after this crisis.


Councillor Brookes said that figures must be available now of our council tax collection rates for April, could we have them please and what percentage of people paid in May. N Dawe said that he had an indication from the number of direct debits as approximation,but he did not have them to hand at present. Councillor S Kane added that many people were still on furlough and the true impact would not be easy to measure until we came out of the furloughing period.


Councillor Wixley commented that the real issue for Councillor Neville’s question was how many local people were employed in local businesses regardless of who owned them.





(1)          The Cabinet discussed the report and agreed the actions and priorities set out in sections 2 and 3.

(2)          The Cabinet agreed to review detailed investment proposals at their July Cabinet meeting.

(3)          The Cabinet noted that a further report including details of intended proposals and purchases would be taken to Cabinet in July.



Reasons for Proposed Decision:


This was an information paper with no decisions to be made.


Other Options for Action:


No other options available.



Supporting documents: