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Chronically underfunded local authorities deserve recognition for their role in tackling the coronavirus crisis

Chronically underfunded local authorities deserve recognition for their role in tackling the coronavirus crisis

It is councils who have been coordinating, publishing, and policing local efforts, including foodbanks, says Wera Hobhouse MP | Credit: PA Images

3 min read

Given the role local authorities have played in this crisis, they cannot continue to be starved of resources.

After years of being chronically underfunded Local Authorities have been asked to be on the front lines of our current crisis.

From organising food deliveries to identifying those are at risk and living alone, councils have been playing an important role over the last eight weeks.

Government has been the focus of our media coverage but it is local communities who have defined our day to day experiences.

Lockdown meant that our worlds shrunk – confining us to our homes and neighbourhoods.

This crisis was always going to be played out on the local level.

Suddenly the state of our pavements, the timings of our bin collections, and the whether or not our isolated neighbour is receiving support have become central concerns.

The reality is that most people in this country have always cared about these things. And as Lockdown eases this will become clear.

And yet the consistent cuts to local government funding have meant that local authorities have been landed with all the trappings of leadership - but inadequate resources to deliver.

I was a councillor for ten years and experienced this first hand.

The Tories have deliberately stripped the funding away from communities, in an ideological mission to centralise power in Whitehall.

They do not believe in local government and have spent the last few years creating policy which drains our councils of resources.

The time has come for change.

For all the focus on our national Covid-19 strategy, the truth is that the impact of coronavirus is spread locally.

It is local businesses and charities who have been providing fresh produce to their neighbourhoods, turning manufacturing companies and schools into PPE production lines, and organising food banks for the millions of families who have just slipped below the poverty line. And it is councils who have been, coordinating, publishing, and policing these efforts.

As much as any other keyworkers. local authorities deserve recognition.

It is encouraging to hear Robert Jenrick promise to repay the money spent by councils to fight Covid-19 but there are important questions about how this will be done.

Already some councils are concerned about both spending around Covid-19 and the loss of income due to the crisis. Many are wondering how they will get through the next year.

Last month I tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament asking Government to recognise the efforts of our local authorities in this crisis and provide clear answers as to the funding which will be provided.

Already we have built momentum in this campaign – working with Labour, the Green Party, a few Conservatives, and of course my own group of Liberal Democrat colleagues.

Together we will be championing the work of local authorities during this crisis from inside Parliament.

Government needs to commit itself to listen to the concerns of councils and fully fund our communities both during and after this crisis.

For the last few years localauthorities have been starved of resources.

They cannot afford to return to the status quo. And, especially given the role they have played over the last few months, we should not ask them to.

 

Wera Hobhouse is Liberal Democrat MP for Bath.

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