FINANCE bosses at the council have warned the challenge they faced meeting last year's budget ‘pales in significance’ compared to the task faced following the pandemic.

Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) came in almost £650,000 under budget when the 2019/2020 financial year drew to a close in March 2020, just as the coronavirus lockdown came into effect.

This means the authority spent a total of just more than £74 million on its day-to-day services, such as bin collections, social care, staff salaries and more.

But the fee for the council could be much higher in March 2021 when the full cost of the coronavirus pandemic is realised.

Bracknell News:

Stuart McKellar, BFC’s finance chief, said: “[Last year] was one of the most challenging years we have faced financially since becoming a unitary authority in 1998.

“We thought it was challenging — it pales in significance given what we are facing now.”

READ MORE: How the council funded its budget last year

The council has received £5.8 million from the government in unringfenced money — cash it can spend on whatever it likes to help manage the extra strains caused by the pandemic.

But speaking to the News in May, finance boss councillor Peter Heydon said the money received would only cover half of the council’s overall costs.

Leader of the council, Councillor Paul Bettison, added: “This last year will probably go down as the last year of the ‘old’ normality and it is of course in complete contrast to what we’re having to undergo at the moment.”

Bracknell News:

BFC’s 2019/2020 budget saw an underspend after bosses drew around £2 million from their reserves — a pot of money saved for different funding needs.

Overspends of £788,000 and £985,000 in children’s and adult’s social care respectively, as well as a £1.3 million overspend in mental health and out-of-hours support, contributed to a big overall increase in costs in BFC’s ‘people’ department.

READ MORE: How much the council is set to spend on repairing its building this year

But borrowing £15 million less than anticipated for its capital budget, additional community funding from developers and greater business rates income meant the council paid £2.5 million less on interest on loans than it expected to at the start of the financial year.

Among other spending and saving lines, the final revenue budget came out at £646,000 less than expected.

This is despite Chief Executive Timothy Wheadon ordering a freeze on non-essential spending across all BFC’s divisions in an attempt to claw back a projected overspend back in December 2019.

Mr McKellar added: “[This] is a very good outcome given what we were facing round about Christmas, which didn’t look anything like as rosy as that.”

The council’s spending was discussed at a meeting of the executive on Tuesday, July 14.