The frontline heroes we’re cheering today will lose their jobs tomorrow if the government break their promise to fund whatever’s necessary to get communities through this crisis.
That’s according to Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE, speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, as estimates of the financial black hole facing local councils caused by the coronavirus emergency range from £5billion to £12billion.
At the beginning of the lockdown, while local firms were open and paying business rates, residents had yet to sign up for three-month Council Tax “holidays” and parking fees and fines were still rolling in to Town Hall coffers, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, promised local authorities that the Conservative government would spend “whatever’s necessary” to deal with the pandemic emergency.
But Reed, now the Labour Party’s front bench spokesman for local government, echoed the concerns of many Town Halls across the country, including Croydon’s, when he sought an undertaking in Parliament that the government would honour its promises to local government, where much of the frontline burden in coping with coronavirus has fallen.
“If the government does not keep its promise to fund the full cost of this crisis,” Reed warned, “councils will be forced to make cuts potentially totalling billions of pounds and that will mean job losses.
“Councils say the additional funding that’s been announced so far barely covers a quarter of what’s needed. It’s not enough.
“The frontline heroes we’re cheering today will lose their jobs tomorrow if the government break their promise to fund whatever’s necessary to get communities through this crisis.”
In a remote meeting tonight, the majority Labour group on Croydon Council will hear from Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finance, of how officials have been keeping a close record of the borough’s additional spending on covid-19 measures, in the expectation that the government will honour its commitment to cover all costs arising.
London councils have said that they already need another £1billion.
But local authority chiefs are becoming increasingly nervous at the absence of hard detail from Whitehall about how, and when, the additional extra cash will be made available from central government.
The Observer reported at the weekend that several of England’s 343 local authorities are already on the brink of insolvency.
Councils have spent hundreds of millions more than expected during the lockdown on providing social care, personal protective equipment for staff, housing rough sleepers and supplying emergency food packages while losing larger amounts in lost revenues from Council Tax, parking charges and leisure fees.
The government has provided £3.2billion in two crisis bailouts since the lockdown at the end of March, but councils are warning much of this has already been spent.
The unprecedented financial pressure has already forced six councils – including England’s largest local authority, Birmingham – to invoke controversial emergency powers under the Coronavirus Act which allow them to suspend legal duties to provide aspects of social care – cost-saving measures that charities and human rights groups have warned will put older and disabled people at risk.
And yesterday, the chairman of the Local Government Association said that councils may need up to another £12.8billion from the government to get through the coronavirus crisis.
Giving evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, James Jamieson said the £3.2billion given by Whitehall so far had given councils “breathing space”.
Robert Jenrick, the Tory minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has refused to give a “cast-iron public commitment” that it will meet extra costs to councils and compensate for lost income.
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