Southwark Council’s top boss has warned “swingeing cuts” may need to be made by the town hall if the government does not stump up more cash for local authorities.
The local authority is facing a £25m funding blackhole amid the coronavirus crisis, as income dries up during the lockdown.
Earlier this month, the government announced more funding for councils – but politicians have been left in the dark as to how much they will receive.
“The real challenge will come when we set the budget next year,” warns council leader Cllr Peter John.
“Because unless we get more cash [from the government] we will have to be making some really swingeing cuts next year.”
Local authorities have sounded the alarm across the country about the perilous state of their finances, with some warning they could face bankruptcy without government support.
The council’s top boss starkly warned that the pandemic could go on for much longer yet – saying he did not even expect pubs to necessarily reopen by Christmas.
“It’s absolutely about when the threat of coronavirus ends and we get back to normality again,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone thinks that’s any time soon – it could take years for it to go back to normal.”
Worries have been raised that the edges of the lockdown are beginning to fray, with even council officials saying they do not know when it will be lifted.
“The reality is that people are breaking the lockdown – more people are travelling, more people are going into work.
“There’s a risk of lockdown fatigue. I understand them being frustrated by it but they will be more upset if their friends or loved ones will come down with an illness.”
He added that in some areas of the borough – naming Walworth Road and Rye Lane – some residents did not appear to be practising social distancing.
Criticism has been levied at the government over its lack of testing amid shortfalls in numbers to reach a target of 100,000 tests a day.
Last week the News revealed Southwark’s care workers were being offered just six tests a day, despite being key workers on the frontline.
Speaking hours before health secretary Matt Hancock widened the eligibility for tests to include those who need to leave home for work, Cllr John said: “It’s still not good enough if we’re honest.
“It’s still difficult to get on the website to get the appointments, there’s still too many people in Southwark who have to travel to get tested.”