DORSET Council is investigating raiding reserve funds to keep itself financially afloat.

Officers have been looking at funding which has been ear-marked for specific future projects to see if the money can be released now, according to a source.

Among the funds being looked at is £6million which came from the former West Dorset District Council specifically to set up housing projects under the Homes Dorset banner.

None of the money from any of the ear-marked funds has been released but the position is being investigated should the authority not get further Government cash to help it deal with the Covid 19 crisis.

Compared to many councils Dorset is relatively well off, starting the financial year with around £28million in its general reserves fund. But even with this sizeable savings pot by the end of the financial year, in spring 2021, a £60m overspend is predicted – unless the council gets more help.

The authority is trying to stave off the need for what is known as a Section 114 notice, in essence declaring itself financial unviable. Neighbours Wiltshire are already heading down that route.

Covid 19 and its consequences has been costing Dorset Council around £1m in unplanned spending each week and although some of the immediate demand has reduced there could yet be further costs associated with growing mental health problems, domestic violence and homelessness. The council is already facing a significant upswing in the number of children who have come into its care – coupled with a decrease in number of places for them.  Demand for elderly services has also increased significantly and although domestic abuse cases did not initially increase at the start of lockdown, more cases are now coming to light as restrictions ease.

Portland councillor Paul Kimber asked the cabinet meeting online on Tuesday what the council was doing to prepare for the predicted big increase in home re-possessions. The sole Labour councillor did not get a response. Council leader Spencer Flower said he needed notice of the question.

Another South Dorset councillor, Weymouth’s Gill Taylor, said the council had never seen so many homeless and rough sleepers under its care – some 300 individuals and families at one point during the peak of lockdown. She called on the council to tackle the problem, build new homes and release sites it owns to help overcome the issue.

Council finance brief holder Cllr Tony Ferrari said the council was already cutting costs where it could, had given notice on two office buildings it leases and was starting to look at the 20/21 budget.

The meeting was also told that a review of the council's people strategy was underway, something which, although not said at the meeting, is widely thought might result in a further streamlining of services.