Perhaps it was inevitable that this year’s government review of public spending would get downgraded from a comprehensive, three-year plan to the one-year Spending Review Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered last month.
In an unprecedented year of worldwide economic and social disruption arising from an international pandemic, just getting through 2020 will have been a major personal achievement for most of us and the organisations for which we work.
Councils, though, have gone above and beyond the call of duty. They have kept the day-to-day services running that we all rely on while also delivering on the frontline of the COVID-19 response, protecting vulnerable residents and supporting local businesses.
It was good to see some acknowledgement in the Spending Review of local government’s incredible work during the pandemic and of the huge pressures councils and their staff continue to face, with announcements on extra funding providing some short-term financial certainty.
But as we head into 2021 – and with recent news on vaccines giving us some hope that the worst of the pandemic may be over by the spring – we need to look further ahead to provide the long-term certainty councils need to help build back better.
For example, we need a sustainable adult social care system. As we said in our response to the Spending Review, council tax increases via the social care precept are a sticking-plaster approach and will place an extra burden on households already struggling with the impact of the pandemic on their livelihoods and health.
No new public health funding, despite this incredibly challenging period, also runs contrary to addressing the stark health inequalities exposed by COVID-19 and government ambitions to ‘level up’ our communities.
Investment in our local public services is critical to our national recovery next year and beyond. Only with the right funding and freedoms can councils lead local efforts to tackle the inequalities the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated, and ensure an economic recovery that benefits everyone.