COUNCIL bosses have urged the government to act urgently to balance the cost of Covid – in the face of a four-year plan to save £64m

The Labour-run authority is battling to rebalance their budget amid the ongoing costs of coronavirus.

Cllr Eamonn O'Brien, leader of the council, has called on the government to fulfil the promise they made in March to foot the bill for handling the pandemic.

He said: "The scale of the financial challenges facing us is a significant one, but it's not an inevitable one.

"We were told to go and do what was necessary to fight Covid and the government would foot the bill.

"Unfortunately that is becoming an increasingly empty promise.

"Our current positions is in stark contrast to where we were in February, where we produced a balanced budget, which does give us a fighting chance to get through this.

"We must be given more resources to avoid further cuts – we owe it to out key worker staff to look after them as they looked after us.

"We are in a very difficult position which is why we need to be a united voice to say the government needs to do more to avoid more cuts."

Officials estimate the coronavirus pandemic has directly cost the council £64m – with £31m of that deficit falling into next year's budget due to loss of income.

For this financial year, an overspend of £7m is expected, although this should be reduced to £1.7m after additional grants are awarded.

The budget has already been updated to include some suggested savings – including a tree planting cut.

Further cuts outlined to balance future budgets include £1.1m being slashed from next year's cash for children and young people.

A report has outlined a ‘wider transformation’ of services and states: ” Avoiding escalation to costly care options, particularly out of borough placements, is the most effective way to reduce spending.”

The report also says £3m of savings could be found in all age disability integration.

Cllr Jones accused the cabinet of "playing politics with people's lives".

He said: "The government has given you £65m to deal with the pandemic so far. I know a lot of it is ring fenced but I think that's great – the more ringfenced money we can be given the better as I dread to think what you'd spend it on.

"We clearly have an inept Labour administration running this council into the ground – the council is projected to go bust in 2022.

"This administration are playing politics with people's lives through a pandemic – it's a Conservative administration in the waiting."

Another possibility is the closure of some civic sites.

Cllr O'Brien acknowledged that looking to close a site people had enjoyed for many years was a difficult decision, but maintenance and running costs for the buildings were becoming "prohibitive" to keeping them open in their current form.

The consultation will explore the possibility of closing the sites, transforming them into something else, or attempting to maintain them as they are.

Cllr O'Brien added: "If the government do precisely what they said they'll do and level up the north and give us more resources, we will obviously welcome that.

"If they don't then we're within our rights to say they're not doing it at the expense of our most vulnerable and our key worker staff – the people we're here to look after."

The report was approved by the cabinet, and its contents will soon be laid out for public consultation ahead of February's budget meeting.