Councils need a bigger cake

The Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis will, quite rightly, be judged by the historians and will focus on the human cost of the pandemic.

Confused messaging, delays to lockdown, the farcical distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) – all will be in the spotlight, as will the Government’s abysmal response to the crisis in our care homes, which continues to unravel.

“For most councils, the loss of income is a bigger figure than increased costs”

It is doubtful that local government finance will take centre stage in the history books, but the back-tracking on early ‘commitments’ from Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick MP are likely to have a devastating impact on the economy and communities for decades to come. 

Remember, we were told: “Whatever it takes.”

Lost income is the biggest worry to councils. For most, the loss of income is a bigger figure than increased costs – a mega-issue for districts and even for my own unitary council. In Oldham, our latest full year cost estimates are: increased expenditure – £19.2 million; reduced income – £27 million.

I welcome the additional cash the Government has awarded the sector, but there is no doubt it wasn’t enough – far from it. The latest funding (at time of print) was also paid for by the robbing of urban areas with high levels of deprivation.

The debate shouldn’t be about how much of the cake we should be getting, but that the cake just isn’t big enough.

Some of these issues have been simmering for a while – the crisis in adult social care, the underfunding of children’s services, failure to invest in public transport, the massive backlog in highway maintenance, caring for our green and public spaces, the endless additional burdens pushed down from government that are not being properly funded, such as tackling homelessness – to name just a handful.

Nearly a month ago, the Government confusingly changed its messaging to the public, while the other three UK nations retained the old slogan. Fingers crossed the new approach hasn’t caused a major spike in COVID-19 numbers in England by the time you read this.

Stay safe everyone.


Taking care of our mental wellbeing

Rebuilding our lives and communities