Fears Over Government Support for Councils

June 7, 2020 12:00 PM
By Cllr Ian Marks

Local Liberal Democrats have added their weight to calls for the Government to give more financial support to Councils helping their communities fight the effects of the pandemic.

Government claims it is providing sufficient funds but Councils of all political colours doubt this. Clarification about future funding is essential.

Cllr Ian Marks, Warrington Council Opposition Spokesperson on Finance, says:

wp-content/uploads/imarks.jpgRight from the start, Councils have stepped up to provide much needed support in a whole host of ways. They have supported front-line workers, supplied emergency food packages, worked with voluntary groups and distributed grants to local businesses. This has helped some of the most vulnerable and must continue. In addition, Councils are ideally placed to play a critical role in getting the economy back on its feet.

Warrington's Hospital Trust had nearly £58 million of debts written off to support its work to combat the virus. This was most welcome but unlike the NHS, Councils have a legal requirement to balance their budgets. Before the crisis, Local Authorities were struggling financially after far too many years of austerity. The position is now much more critical and without long-term financial support from Government, the lifelines that Councils offer will no longer be possible. The direct costs of the virus are only part of the true costs that Councils are having to absorb.

Councils like ours face both an increase in spending and a drop in income. Originally Government promised Councils all the resources they need to cope with the pandemic but now they are backing off from this commitment. It says it will only pay for services it has requested. Councils may be banned from investing in commercial property for the purpose of boosting revenue. Liberal Democrats have been critical of some of the investments the Council has been making. Despite assurances, we are concerned about the risk exposure we face. But we understand the need to be innovative and an outright ban would cause problems.

In a joint report, a number of leading children's charities have said that Government must help councils invest in early intervention programmes to stop families reaching crisis point after coronavirus. Demand for children's services will rise and early intervention is vital to stop problems escalating. At the other end of the age spectrum, it is estimated that a tenth of the country's care homes could go out of business. Some older people in care homes are being asked to pay an extra £100 a week to cover the costs of the virus. It will be Local Authorities like Warrington who will have to pick up the pieces. After a catalogue of failures in dealing with the virus, let's hope the Government gets it right over funding Local Authorities.