A special meeting of Fife Council is to be convened early next month to discuss the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and possible changes to the local authority’s governance structure.
Members of the region’s policy and co-ordination committee backed a motion calling on Provost Jim Leishman in liaison with chief executive Steve Grimmond to host a full council meeting in August.
Members will be invited to debate the response to the crisis and agree revised governance arrangements that will allow the council to “address the challenges of recovery most effectively”.
The unprecedented step comes amid fears the additional cost of coronavirus to the council is spiralling out of control, with a new financial update suggesting the estimated bill now stands at almost £86 million – around £8 million more than expected less than a month ago.
The anticipated hike in costs has been put down largely to the reopening of schools, council office changes and increased construction outgoings.
Councillors heard that various funding options, such as potential avenues for Scottish Government “flexibility” – including deferring loan repayments and loan interest – could bring the shortfall down to nearer £19 million, but the outlook is still bleak.
Eileen Rowand, executive director of finances and resources, said: “Further sources and opportunities for funding are being identified but these have yet to be considered fully and are dependent on a range of factors both locally and nationally.
“There will also be scope to use a level of balances to meet one-off costs, however, this will be limited given the financial risks that the council may face going forward.”
SNP councillor John Beare questioned how much flexibility there was in relation to the use of uncommitted council balances, a figure that stands at around £20 million, noting: “If ever there was a rainy day I think this is it.”
Ms Rowand agreed some balances could be used but said a “level of prudence” was still needed due to the potential for other unforeseen circumstances.
Councillors voted 18-2 in favour of bringing forward new governance proposals to the August meeting, defeating an amendment from Liberal Democrat member Tim Brett which called for the issue to be tackled within the council’s existing structures.
Conservative group leader Dave Dempsey welcomed the chance to discuss a shake-up.
“The council has a plethora of committees that meet so infrequently that it can be challenging to remember what happened last time,” he said.
“What’s need is a slicker, more streamlined system that places greater emphasis on scrutiny and on decentralisation.”
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