At the start of this crisis, everybody in local government heard the same message from the Chancellor – that councils should do “whatever it takes” to tackle coronavirus.
Council leaders from every party, and chief executives from all types of council, all made the fair assumption that this meant that his government would refund the costs that councils would inevitably run up – an interpretation boosted by the fact that the Government effectively asked councils to send them their receipts every month from April onwards.
Astonishingly, there was no new public health funding, despite being in the middle of a pandemic, and nothing to address the stark health inequalities exposed by COVID-19.
Councils asked the Chancellor to use the Spending Review to keep his promise – but he simply hasn’t delivered.
Coronavirus has cost councils more than £11 billion this year alone, and the Government has refunded less than half of that. This Spending Review has done nothing to fundamentally change the fact that councils will be forced to make severe cuts in 2021 to balance their books.
To make this even worse, despite many reporting that the Chancellor had delayed decisions on tax rises, he actually sneaked in a massive £1 billion council tax bombshell.
Council tax rises will ‘level down’ – councils in richer areas will raise much more money from a 5 per cent rise than councils in poorer areas, exacerbating inequality. And it remains a sticking plaster that will not address long-term pressures.
But perhaps what was most important in the Spending Review was what wasn’t in it.
Shamefully, there was no pay rise for public sector workers, including the care workers the Chancellor was happy to clap for in photos just months ago.
And once again, there was no clear plan on the future of social care and how we pay for it – despite the Prime Minister promising on the steps of Downing Street 16 months ago that he already had a plan that would ‘fix social care’.
A litany of broken promises. Our country deserves better.