SWANSEA Council is earmarking £115 million to meet the cost of dealing with the coronavirus, but leaders expect to get most of the money they end up spending back.
Councillors were told at a meeting that £100 million could be used from the revenue budget, and £15 million from the capital budget.
Referring to the revenue sum, Council Leader Rob Stewart said: “It does not mean we are £100 million down. We have changed what we’ve spent our money on.”
Like all local authorities, Swansea has provided extra social care and free school meal support, bolstered food banks, created child care hubs and is now operating coronavirus contact tracing teams, among other roles.
The council has an additional 140 social care workers to call on, and has created two new care settings in Sketty and Gorseinon. Support is also being offered to independent care homes.
Cllr Stewart outlined the authority’s Covid-19 response at a scrutiny committee meeting on June 16, and reiterated his thanks to everyone involved.
He said some non-emergency services “have hibernated”, but added that work was well under way on what he described as a recovery plan for Swansea.
He hoped the Welsh Government’s lockdown review this week would offer some good news for businesses.
Since the lockdown the number of pupils eligible for free school meals has shot up from 4,000 to 7,500 in Swansea.
The council is also receiving less money than normal from fees and charges, and has seen a drop in council tax income in April and May.
The Swansea Labour leader said: “My view is that the majority of everything we have incurred is to be covered by the Welsh and UK Governments.”
But he warned that new recruits would be needed for the contact tracing teams, whose role is to ensure that infected people and their recent contacts isolate, once council staff who work for them start going back to their normal roles.
The council’s chief finance officer, Ben Smith, said he was reasonably relaxed about the situation “given we are in very unusual times”.
Members of the scrutiny committee quizzed Cllr Stewart and senior officers on details of the Covid-19 response, asking if emergency revisions would be needed to the council’s budget, how lost income could be reimbursed, and when cleansing teams would be back to full capacity.
Cllr Chris Holley said he was worried that Swansea’s manufacturing and retail base “is slowly collapsing”, and felt it was imperative the city capitalised on home-grown tourism when travel restrictions were eased.
“It is going to be an extremely important part of our economy in the future,” he said.
Cllr Stewart told the remote meeting that the under-construction indoor arena project was “largely on track”, and that work to build new high-tech offices with retail space at the former Oceana nightclub site on The Kingsway was expected to start early next year.
He also said that Swansea’s current rate of coronavirus cases was the lowest for “any large population centre”, and that anti-body testing for some key workers at the new Bay Studios field hospital had just got under way.
The field hospital has around 1,000 beds and has cost between £12 million and £15 million.
Cllr Stewart said he expected this sum would be reimbursed by Swansea Bay University Health Board.
Although there is just a 12-month lease to use the Bay Studios building in question as a field hospital, Cllr Stewart said this did not preclude the site owners and health board potentially extending it.
“It could be used for many years,” he said.