Finance chiefs at the county council are already looking for ways to find £20 million of savings and efficiencies next year – amid soaring Covid-19 costs.

Estimates suggest the cost of the pandemic to the council – in additional costs and loss of income – is currently around £71.6 million.

Around £54.57 million of those costs have been met by central Government – with estimates that a further £6 million may follow.

But that will still leave the council with a shortfall, or "net pressure" of around £11 million, according to the report.

At a meeting of the county council’s resources and performance cabinet panel on Friday (September 4), it was reported that £2 million of this could be met through underspends in non-Covid budgets across the council.

In order to balance the council’s budget, the entire contingency budget for 2020/21 – set at £9 million – would have to be used.

At the meeting, councillors were warned of the "clear tapering" in Government support, financial uncertainty and the “precarious” financial position of the council.

They were told the “previous approach of unconstrained support for the local community is no longer sustainable”.

“A more cautious approach is now required for all future initiatives to support the local community, businesses and key contractors,” says the report to the cabinet panel.

“Before additional costs are approved offsetting savings will need to be identified to maintain a balanced budget position.”

In addition, amid fears of a “significant” slump in income from business rates and council tax, it was reported that "further savings and efficiencies" will be required to balance next year’s 2021/22 budget.

At the meeting, it emerged that council officers are already starting to look at ways to deliver a further £20 million "headroom" in next year’s budget.

“The Integrated Planning process has now been started with a plan of creating a list of options capable of delivering an additional £20 million of headroom in the 2021/22 budget,” says the report.

“This will be a challenging target to deliver, but it is seen as necessary due to the level of uncertainty surrounding the council’s finances and the late Spending Review announcement.”

The £71.6 million does not include an additional £37.5 million of ring-fenced grants from government and health partners, also highlighted in the report.

This includes £18.8 million from local Clinical Commissioning Groups, £13.3 million from the Infection Control Fund, £4.5 million from the Track and Trace Support Grant and £900,000 from the Local Authority Emergency Assistance Grant.

At the meeting, Labour councillor Sharon Taylor – who is also leader of Stevenage Borough Council – acknowledged the sums involved were “eye watering”.

She asked what representations were being made to Government.

And she said there was a need to stress to the Government not only the gap in funding but the "very long lag" between funding announcements and payment, which she said made financial planning extremely difficult.