Wellington Town council has withdrawn its government furlough funding application, after “disquiet” from members who said the scheme was not intended for public bodies.
Wellington Town Council’s revenue from hall hire bookings and pay toilets has dried up since the initial lockdown and social distancing measures were introduced, Policy and Resources Committee chairman Stephen DeLauney said.
He added that losses could amount to £10,000, eclipsing the council’s reserves and contingency fund, if anti-coronavirus measures remain in place for a whole year.
Councillor Lee Carter pointed out public authorities are entitled to claim from the Job Retention Scheme, but HM Treasury advises against it in most cases “There are two losses of income that we are suffering. To counter that, we have formally furloughed the two staff in The Parade toilets as of April 1.
“The guidance from the government is that they don’t normally expect local authorities apply for furlough funding but the exception is if you are losing money from a service you provide.
“On the basis that we will be losing some money, we are attempting to claim that money back from the government.”
Councillor Phil Morris-Jones asked: “Isn’t this what we have contingencies for? And also why we make sure we have healthy reserves?”
Cllr DeLauney said: “All I’m saying, for the moment, is we don’t know the size of the problem. We could be looking, if it was a whole year, at £10,000.” He added there was “nothing like that” in the contingency.
Cllr Carter, who is also a Telford and Wrekin cabinet member, said he was “uneasy” about the town council applying.
Guidance about the Job Retention Scheme at Gov.uk says: “In a small number of cases, for example where [public-sector] organisations are not primarily funded by the government and whose staff cannot be redeployed to assist with the coronavirus response, the scheme may be appropriate for some staff.”
Cllr Carter said: “We’ve got businesses in the town who have fallen on the cusp, just outside of various schemes and grants and not able to apply. In the grand scheme of things the potential drop of income isn’t a massive amount to us.”
Town mayor Anthony Lowe said: “I was going to make the opposite point: If there is some money going we should get it because national government are not doing local government many favours at the moment.”
Cllr Angela McClements agreed with Cllr Carter that they should not apply “for the time being”, but accepted they might revisit this later.
Cllr DeLauney said there was “obvious disquiet” about the application, so confirmed it would be withdrawn.