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This article originally appeared in Politics Home
After years of being chronically underfunded, local government is being 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 a hugely important role over recent months.
Government has been the focus of our media coverage, but it is local communities who are defining our day-to-day experiences. Lockdown has meant that our worlds have shrunk – confining us to our homes and neighbourhoods.
This crisis was always going to be played out on the local level.
It’s never been more important to have community support for the elderly and the vulnerable, and quality council funded services with staff who have relationships with service users.
Even things that are often taken for granted, like well kept parks, are seriously important to people to carry out their hour of exercise.
And yet the consistent cuts to local government funding have meant that Local Authorities have been landed with all the trappings of leadership – but none of the resources or responsibility.
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 to change this.
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 key workers, 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 week I tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament asking the Government to recognize 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, 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 Local Authorities have been starved of resources. They cannot afford to return to the status quo. Given the role they have played in this crisis, and the importance they have in the resilience of our country, we should not ask them to.