A LOCAL authority has warned £18m of coronavirus-related costs have left it facing “difficult decisions” over funding key services and has called for suggestions on how it can generate more money to maintain them.

Just nine months after Darlington Borough Council announced a reversal of fortune would enable it to set its “most optimistic budget in a decade” and invest £1.8m into issues such as neighbourhood renewal, the authority said the effects of the pandemic meant balancing the books next year would not be simple.

The authority’s resources portfolio holder Councillor Charles Johnson said the financial challenges were looming after the Conservative-led council had taken Government statements about spending whatever was needed to tackle the virus at face value.

He said: “It would be a miracle if we recover as much money from the government as we have spent. We are putting claims in to government to recover what we can, but we would be lucky to recover about £10m of the £18m we have had to spend and the rest has got to come out of our treasure chest, which is not that big.

“We are thinking very carefully about the next budget and where we can make savings.”

He said while he had ensured the collection of council tax and business rates had remained a high priority during the pandemic, the total funding the council would receive was likely to be significantly down.

Cllr Johnson said: “We are moving into difficult times, there’s no doubt about that. We will have to look at some difficult decisions to take.

“We will us whatever tools we can to improve our income. We are using joint ventures which are working well. Any suggestions that may help in producing affordable budgets will be welcomed. I’m sure the officers will already be looking at partnership arrangements. We will have to investigate every option.”

Cllr Johnson was speaking after a meeting of the authority which heard even before the pandemic, the predicted difference between the council’s income and expenditure meant “burning through our reserves” in the next few years.

Members heard the current system of funding councils, partly by allowing them to keep business rates, was insufficient to meet their needs.

Councillor Bryony Holroyd said she hoped the authority was able to use public and community partnerships to further improve the town, cut carbon, regenerate the economy and making savings for the council.

A report to the meeting stated the council had recently received a further £943,000 in Covid-19 funding from the Government bringing the total to £7.174m.

It stated the council would also be accessing the Local Government Income Compensation Scheme which was announced in July. The scheme will compensate for the loss of sales, fees and charges income for 75 pence in every pound lost.