Millions lost in parking income as council considers Covid accounts

Cllr Mary Maynard.

Cllr Mary Maynard. - Credit: SADC

The coronavirus pandemic has left the district council with a £2.5m budget shortfall, according to its yearly accounts.

This includes millions of pounds lost in parking income, according to the authority's unaudited statement of accounts for the last year.

The council's audit committee was presented with a report on the findings at its last meeting, with deputy chief executive (financial and legal) Colm O'Callaghan stressing that although SADC “continues to operate in challenging financial times... I am pleased to report that our financial position remains strong, with sound financial management practices and controls".

The accounts note that £2.58m in car parking and on-street parking services income was lost, with operations “significantly underutilised” for the past financial year.

The council’s commercial and development department also reported a loss of £2.07m in income with leisure centres and museums ordered to remain closed for much of the year, although it was offset with savings of £605,000 compared to the budgeted running costs.

Government support included £3.36m in a ‘sales, fees and charges income guarantee’ grant, as well as a general £1.7m COVID-19 grant. The museums were also awarded £143,000 from the Culture Recovery Fund. 

But that support will not cover the full impact of the pandemic, with SADC expecting to have to make up a significant shortfall in their next budget.

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The report said: “The council’s future financial position and make up of its future plans will also depend on the speed and extent of income recovery.

“We need to make savings and additional income of approximately £2.5m for 2022/23 due to the level of income being below early 2020 levels and likely long term behaviour change (in terms of its impact on travel and hence parking).”

The accounts do not include any information on the district’s economic recovery following the lifting of lockdown in April.

The accounts also reveal scrapped £18m plans to acquire the Harpenden Estate – which would have seen the council purchase property on the town’s high street as another income stream.

The site has since been purchased by another buyer, but the abandoned scheme cost the council £267,000.

Conservative group leader Cllr Mary Maynard said: “I’m rather surprised by the figure of £267,000 having been wasted on a somewhat quixotic gesture on behalf of the administration which ran the council in this period. It seems an awful lot of money – I’m very, very surprised they spent that much on this abortive effort.”

The accounts will also be reviewed by external auditors with final approval expected in November.