TAVISTOCK Town Council is in a ‘perilous’ financial situation following the aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdown.
During a virtual budget and policy meeting last Tuesday (July 14), members heard how the council’s finances has been badly affected by the Government’s enforced lockdown.
As a council that earns money from commercial activities, lockdown meant that Tavistock suffered a heavy loss of income when shops and the pannier market were forced to close. As a landlord, the council decided to defer rent for its tenants until next year, resulting in a further reduction of income.
Town clerk Carl Hearn told councillors that most of its reserve funds were committed and to get the council through the rest of the financial year members and staff would need to think of ways to generate and save income.
‘We are at the back end of a major capital investment programme — that means that our capital reserves themselves are all committed and because of the loss of income that we have, and what we project to have, it means that we are having to now access the general reserves which is money which is put aside and held for an emergency situation.
‘We are also having to access some of the reserves which we are contractually bound to have under agreements with partners such as those to the guildhall and the THI premises that we agreed with the National Lottery Heritage Fund that we would set aside.
‘If we were in the private sector in a situation like this we would probably seek to borrow in order to get over the short term difficulty, something which councils are not allowed to do under current legislation; or we would get rid of an asset and deploy in the revenue stream — something again we are not legally allowed to do.
‘That means that the only way we can generate income is from the residual income streams we have which are going to be very largely dependent on the extent to which the retail businesses and the market businesses are able to re-open and to prosper. Secondly through savings and cuts.’
Mr Hearn added that the council’s managers were looking at ways to save and cuts that could be made to get the council through the financial year.
Tavistock mayor Anne Johnson said that the town council needs to appeal to West Devon Borough Council for help: ‘The Government thinks it’s given the councils money to ease them through these difficult times but when it comes to it, they’ve given money to the county council and district councils but nothing to towns and parishes.
‘I think it’s highly unlikely that we will get anything but I do think that we need to raise awareness of this situation.
‘The Government seriously thinks that the county council and the district council will be passing money down to the towns and parishes to help them out — I don’t think that the cash strapped county council and cash strapped borough council have got a penny to pass on to towns and parishes but I would like to propose that we write to the borough council and tell them what a perilous situation we are in and actually ask them for some help.’