A councillor has warned the “greatest challenge” for Thurrock Council financially will be next year when the true cost of the Covid-19 pandemic hits home.

Council bosses met last week to discuss the significant impact the pandemic has had on the local economy, including how it has increase a four year funding gap from £5.5million over the next four years to £33.6million – an increase of £27.4million.

During the meeting the council’s deputy leader Councillor Shane Hebb warned that next year would be the “greatest challenge” for the authority.

He said: “Currently we estimate £3.6million of loss income on council tax, business rates and pay outs of local council tax schemes.

“There is another £3.3million of income losses associated with fees and charges, i.e. theatre and other services like the theatres.

“Other pressures linked to Covid are delays to service saving targets being achieved due to staff and members having to be focussed on fighting the impacts of the pandemic and a need to assess those changes when the post-covid world is clearly known.

“There is also a delay and desist to elements of our capital strategy that we need, which constitute the remaining pressure.

“One thing is for certain, had we not had a budget surpluses and reserves position which have been increased by around 131 per cent on the 2016 levels we inherited, our position would be far worse and I would be presenting an even more sobering picture than where we are today.

“What is not widely known is council tax and business rate collections in the simplest terms are accounted for in the year following.

“This means the part of the larger deficit will come next year as a result of that accounting treatment, that isn’t a Thurrock thing, it is a national arrangement.”

He continued: “Covid-19 has caused £13million of direct pressures just this year alone.

“That is costs directly caused by Covid, not the outside stuff that has occurred as a knock-on effect.

“That also doesn’t account for what else is coming. Worsening tax and rate collections, losses against theatres, and other fee raising services.”

Prior to the pandemic, Thurrock’s short-term debt shot up to more than £1billion and that is set to grow to more than £2billion over the next five years.

But most of this debt is the result of a strategy to borrow from other councils and invest the cash into renewable energy projects outside of the borough.

Mr Hebb insisted there has been no impact on this strategy and no losses as a result.

Speaking of the council’s reserves he promised the authority would not take them below £8million, which is where they stood in 2016 and instead the long-term intention is to “save back up”.

This would be done through a combination of increases to council tax, reviewing major capital projects and streamlining the council so it is less dependent on Government funding.

He added: "It is a certainty that the coucil will need to reduce over the coming years".