A COUNCIL responsible for a wide range of services for 106,000 people has warned it is facing an £8m deficit due to the Covid-19 pandemic – and that even school transport is under threat.

The impact of the virus on Darlington Borough Council has been laid bare for the first time in a report which states despite the authority receiving £6m from the government to help cope with the outbreak, services such as school transport will be “unaffordable” and “unsustainable” unless social distancing rules are changed before September.

The authority has called on the government “to ensure we can provide services to the most vulnerable in our community”.

Other key financial pressures facing the council include a reduction in council tax and business rates collected and increased spend in adult social care as the council looks to support providers to maintain services.

It has been predicted Darlington Hippodrome and the Dolphin Centre alone will see a £3.8m loss in income.

While the council has £12.9m projected reserves for the end of this financial year, it effectively has to keep back £4.3m of that for emergencies and has already committed to use £11.3m in the coming years, leaving a £2.8m black hole.

A report to the council’s cabinet states the shortfall is “assuming no further pressures are identified and there is no impact of CV19 in future years”.

Councillor Charles Johnson, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for resources, said: “There is no doubting that the pandemic has had a major impact on our finances as a council. We are fortunate that we were in a strong position prior to this situation, which will see us through in the short term with no need for rash decisions or changes to the way we operate.

“But, with no way of knowing how our recovery will go – nationally or locally – we will continue to lobby the Government to provide additional support to local authorities to ensure we can provide services to the most vulnerable in our community.

“The Government must help us get back on our feet, so that we can do the same, in turn, for others.”

Leader of the Labour opposition, Councillor Stephen Harker, said if the government did not continue pushing out huge sums of money to councils, local authorities would be “pushed to the brink”.

He said: “Bearing in mind the amount of cuts during austerity, services have already been pared back to the absolute minimum. We are at a turning point and may be in a very bad place if more government funding is not forthcoming as the reserves will not carry us forward.”

When pressed on whether the government should provide extra funding to ensure key services are maintained, Darlington MP Peter Gibson said it was important to remember the predicted deficit was just a projection.

He said: “It is still an emerging picture with the impact of Covid-19 on local authority finances and how much funding Darlington will receive from various government schemes.”

Mr Gibson said he would be “banging the drum for Darlington” in Westminster, making sure the Conservative administration did not forget about the constituencies in the North-East it won at the last election.

He said with Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon Clarke as the local government minister, Tees Valley MPs were in a strong position to make representations to government about council financing.

Mr Gibson added: “The government has stepped up to the plate in providing and underwriting things for local government. I will make sure Darlington’s voice is heard.”