Councils have led the emergency response; we now need to be empowered to support the nation through the next phase.
In recent weeks, councils have led their local communities through this international crisis. We have created new services to support vulnerable people, ensured schools are kept open for the children of key workers, helped more than 90 per cent of rough sleepers off the streets and into safe accommodation, and ensured 98 per cent of kerbside waste and recycling collections have continued as usual.
Local government has led the way during the emergency response, and we now need to be empowered to support our communities as we tackle the unprecedented social and economic task ahead.
With the economy undergoing the biggest contraction the UK has seen since the financial crash in 2008, a pathway has been set to explore how businesses and industries might operate again now and in the future.
Councils have already demonstrated support for the local business community, through the successful delivery of the new business rates reliefs for leisure and retail companies, in getting much-needed grants to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and using their supply chains to protect and redeploy local businesses.
“Councils need the economic levers to support the financial recovery as the emergency measures are slowly lifted”
Local government’s role in managing town, village and city centres, green spaces, transport hubs, the planning system and infrastructure will be central to stabilising our national and local economies in the coming months, as people slowly return to their places of work and education.
As local government’s national membership body, the LGA has been promoting the leading role councils can, and should, play in planning the incremental easing of stay-at-home measures, and the support our residents, businesses and communities will need to prosper. We are sharing your insights and perspectives as new guidance and advice is prepared and published.
Local leaders remain hugely concerned about the financial pressures you face at this time. We appreciate the extra money the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, has secured from the Treasury – in response to the calls from councils and the LGA – as this will be helpful in the immediate term.
The Government has promised that councils will get all the resources they need to cope with this pandemic. This commitment must now be fulfilled by the Treasury and include the full cost to councils of meeting COVID-19 pressures and keeping services running normally, and compensation for all lost income.
These are issues our political leaders have been raising in our conversations with secretaries of state and ministers, as well as MPs and Peers from all parties, as we seek to build a consensus for our case.
Councils also need the economic levers to support the financial recovery as the emergency measures are slowly lifted. Every area has felt this pandemic in different ways and will need tailored support to help get to the other side of this.
Local government has a unique and unrivalled insight into the needs of our communities, and we must be empowered to be able to reshape services around our areas. This could include enhanced devolution, proposals for a UK Shared Prosperity Fund, flexibilities on funding, and lower borrowing rates for council investment.
Councils are playing their full part in the national effort by balancing their role as local leaders of place with their public health responsibilities.
I have been shocked and saddened to see the statistics showing the number of care home residents and staff who have sadly lost their lives as a result of this pandemic. Every death from this virus is a tragedy, and each of these figures represents another terrible loss of a family member, friend or colleague.
The protection of our most vulnerable residents, and the frontline workers who look after them and keep our services running, must be at the forefront of everyone’s minds as the restrictions on society are carefully relaxed.
That is why it is good news that the Government has allocated an extra £600 million to help control infections in care homes. This will help councils’ public health teams in their efforts to reduce and prevent coronavirus outbreaks. The LGA continues to push for all the measures that we need to keep people safe and well.
In the coming weeks and months, the LGA will continue to represent the priorities of councils in our discussions with ministers and officials. To help keep you up to date with all the latest developments, we are continually updating our coronavirus hub (www.local.gov.uk/coronavirus) with links to resources, guidance, public health advice and other useful material.
Do please let us know what else we can do to help, or raise your questions and concerns with us directly, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Your insights help to inform our engagement on your behalf.
LGA events go virtual
The LGA has launched its virtual conference and events programme.
As first was going to press, we were holding a virtual briefing for our LGA vice-presidents, the MPs and Peers who work on your behalf in Parliament.
And more than 300 people joined a webinar on supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our communities, including children and young people, while self-isolating and/or socially distancing. The webinar aimed to help councils think through their local responses.
Other confirmed events include ‘COVID-19 and ethnicity’ on 2 June, with Professor Kevin Fenton, from Public Health England, who is leading the Government’s review into how factors such as ethnicity, gender and obesity impact on how people are affected by coronavirus; and ‘Tackling Covid-19: an international view’ on 17 June. We are hoping to have speakers from New Zealand, Germany and Denmark for the latter.
As we won’t be meeting in Harrogate this year for the LGA’s annual conference, we’re also planning events over July and the summer.
Work has already started on next year’s annual conference, taking place in Liverpool from 6-8 July 2021. Details will be published later in the year.