THE LOCAL Government Association’s (LGA) Richard Watts has written to Tory Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick (of the two houses) warning against ‘extreme cost-cutting’ and appealing for a guarantee that the government is ‘still willing to do whatever it takes’ to keep vital services.
An extra £1.6bn has been given to local authorities since the coronavirus pandemic began, but councils face vastly increased costs from supporting vulnerable, hungry and homeless people, who are now numbered in millions, while councils’ income from fees and rates is falling fast.
Watts – the LGA’s resource chairman in his letter to the Local Government Minister Jenrick, stressed that all of the government’s measures, including the £1.6bn funding and deferral of business rates payments, were ‘helpful’ but that the sum was ‘insufficient’, and that members of the LGA have been told that ‘further funding may not be forthcoming despite previous promises’.
This crisis situation, he wrote ‘is having a real impact on councils’ confidence that they will be given the financial means to see this challenge through and could cause some to take extreme cost-cutting and rationing measures’.
Watts added that some social care authorities had already committed up to three-times more spending than the grant allocation allows because they expected extra funding, and the cash put forward already was ‘vanishingly small’ compared to what they are needing to spend on the huge increase in homelessness.
He continued that finance directors from the councils have been holding off issuing reports that show they are ‘spending beyond their means’ because of the promises of extra funding.
Watts said there was a vast increased demand for social care and council tax support, and that the ‘income base is collapsing’ for councils, with leisure centres shut, public transport cut and parking fees not coming in, as well as lower business rates being collected.
‘This loss of income represents a real reduction in the resources available to councils to fund services and will mean that, in the absence of any compensation, the balanced budgets set by councils will not be deliverable,’ wrote Watts.
He urged that the ‘point of focus’ for the government should be ensuring local authorities have ‘confidence that the government will support them’.
Watts concluded by saying: ‘We would like to urge you and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to set out in a clear joint letter of intent that the government is still willing to do whatever it takes and provide further funding to councils up front.’
He called for a ‘commitment to compensate councils fully for costs, net loss of income and savings that cannot be delivered as result of this crisis, so that they can continue to focus on delivering the response to the greatest challenge the UK and the world have seen in decades, as opposed to worrying about whether they need to start rationing because no further support will be forthcoming’.
In fact the Local Government Association said that without more funding authorities will be forced to cut ‘vital’ services, including supporting vulnerable people and the homeless.
The LGA is demanding a ‘cast-iron commitment’ to cover the costs of coronavirus-related social care work. Many councils are already under severe financial strain since before the coronavirus crisis, particularly those responsible for social care.
Since 2010, local authorities have slashed services to balance the books. This crisis has resulted in making life unlivable for many elderly, disabled and homeless people.
Income from fees and charges has dried up, and council tax revenues will fall off a cliff as people face financial hardship.
The LGA says councils are spending more on helping disabled, older and homeless people through the crisis, but leisure and planning services at many town halls have been scaled back or closed, meaning income has ‘dried up’.
Watts said: ‘Additional funding is urgently needed to help councils get through this crisis, support the vulnerable and adapt to life once we defeat this virus, when our local services will be needed more than ever to help communities rebuild.
‘It would be wrong and unacceptable if councils are then forced to make further cutbacks to the very services that will have helped the nation through this crisis and the key workers who are producing heroics on the front line see their jobs placed at risk.’
It is clear that council services are being wound up as the bankers look to secure their deposits, their system and their survival. The UK is being returned to the sea of misery for the working class and the poor that typified Victorian Britain.
In the face of these savage attacks the TUC must be made to call a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers’ government. This will nationalise the banks and the major industries, put them under workers’ management and bring in socialism. This is not just the way forward it is as matter of life or death for millions.