Council purses cannot continue to cover the costs of Covid unsupported from government
More must be done to offer protection to small and medium-sized businesses which employ millions of people nationwide. They will be integral to our recovery, writes Nick Forbes. | PA Images
Unless more is done, more high street icons will be confined to memory, cultural institutions will continue to collapse, and more and more people will turn to the state in order to simply survive
The four-week national lockdown in England was the right thing to do, allowing us to regain control of infection rates across the nation, protect our most vulnerable residents and the NHS.
As a country, we now find ourselves under a set of tiered restrictions designed to prevent infections spiralling out of control during the colder winter months, and to return freedoms into the lives of a population that has never endured such peace-time torment before.
In my city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, residents are subject to the strictest set of measures currently being imposed having been identified as a ‘very high’ risk area. This is after our region being subject to some form of restrictions for several months.
That means there is very little to alleviate the impact on people’s physical and mental wellbeing, the need for welfare support, and the countless untold difficulties people have faced throughout the year.
Bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and many other businesses must remain closed. Although retail premises can once again welcome customers through their doors, this is a worrying time. Tens of thousands of jobs are being lost, most recently with the demise of Arcadia Group and Debenham’s. Undoubtedly others will follow, especially in our independent retailers whose voice is often drowned out.
Greater trust needs to be placed in the devolved authorities and major cities beyond London
Support urgently needs to funnel its way from Westminster to local authorities who have the knowledge and relationships to work as communities to minimise the continued consequences Covid-19 relentlessly delivers.
The extended furlough scheme, business support grants and self-isolation payments are welcome. Developments with treatments, quicker testing methods and newly-approved vaccines certainly offer promise of brighter times to come. But we are by no means in the clear yet.
Unless more is done, more high street icons will be confined to memory, cultural institutions will continue to collapse, and more and more people will turn to the state in order to simply survive. If this very real possibility is to be avoided, we need greater support from the government.
Most urgently, we need clear guidance which has so far been lacking on the exact requirements of moving into less stringent tiered restrictions. That will allow local Public Health leaders to develop our direction, setting a clear path forwards and a more tangible objective to work towards. This will help galvanise our city, bringing the public, our partners and the wider community together with a shared, achievable goal.
More good must be made on promises around targeted community testing. So far, dozens of local authorities have been allocated tens of thousands of lateral flow tests without the resources and infrastructure to administer them. Directors of Public Health are hard at work devising plans to implement community testing to allow us to visit loved ones in care homes, return to our places of worship and readmit fans to sports grounds. But there are costs involved in this.
So far, the ‘whatever it takes’ promise has been completely missed and council purses cannot continue to cover the costs unsupported. In Newcastle, we already stand to take at least a £60 million hit.
More must be done to offer protection to small and medium-sized businesses which employ millions of people nationwide. They will be integral to our recovery when tier restrictions permit spending in bars and pubs and in local independent businesses which have lost months of trade. They need greater financial support to survive, to be COVID-secure, and to prosper.
Finally, greater trust needs to be placed in the devolved authorities and major cities beyond London. Networks such as Core Cities have presented proposals for overcoming the impact of Covid and they need the resources to deliver. Sustainable funding for the Core Cities, in line with their proposals, will create a solid foundation for nationwide recovery to flourish.
Our communities have made great strides throughout this pandemic, doing whatever we can to protect our most vulnerable and provide support to those who need it. But presently, people and businesses continue to struggle, government cannot afford to leave them behind if we are to be able to recover collectively.
Nick Forbes is the Labour leader of Newcastle City Council and leader of LGA Labour.