FINANCE chiefs at Fife Council say the latest estimate of extra costs associated with COVID-19 has dropped from £40 million to £38 million in the past month.

Executive director Eileen Rowand confirmed the improved forecast in a report to the region’s policy and co-ordination committee but stressed that the picture did not factor in any assumptions about any further COVID-19 restrictions or variants that may arise.

The reduction in costs comes largely as a result of improved attendances at leisure and sport facilities, with lost income by the end of March 2022 expected to be £10.8 million rather than the £12.4 million projected previously.

Examples of current forecast costs include additional teaching staff, additional cleaning costs, heating and ventilation as well as continuing to support the most vulnerable in the community.

Despite all that, services are expected to come in with a net underspend of just under £2.7 million at year’s end – with a £10.7 million overspend offset by additional grant funding of £13.4 million provided as part of the local government settlement and an underspend on loan charges.

With Fife’s uncommitted level of balances standing at almost £47.9 million, Ms Rowand is content with the current situation but admits things can change fairly quickly.

“There continues to be a high degree of uncertainty going forward,” she said.

“Balances can only be used once and it is important that we continue to focus on a sustainable level of core funding and take decisions wisely on how we use balances without adding to our ongoing commitments in future years."

The biggest area of service overspend remains in relation to the Communities and Neighbourhood directorate, which forecasts a £4.8m overspend.

The majority of that is down to COVID-19, in particular due to the Fife Sports and Leisure Trust and Fife Cultural Trust continuing to suffer loss of income.

However, other areas of overspend have been identified, including an under-recovery of income from the council’s building services of around £2.3 million.

That has been put down to the continuing impact on productivity of the COVID-19 pandemic with the need for additional health and safety measures post-lockdown, as well as issues regarding supply of materials caused by both the pandemic and Brexit.

Fife councillors are due to set the 2022/23 budget at the next full council meeting on February 24.