Local Response to Coronavirus

Local Response to Coronavirus 800 450 Wera Hobhouse

The coronavirus has spread fear and uncertainty throughout our country. However, there has also been a wonderful response of community spirit that has immediately manifested itself in all our local areas.

People have understood that only if we stand together can we get through this enormous challenge of a global pandemic. Across the board charities, spontaneous grass-root community groups and individuals have offered to help those most in need. This is community in action, but on its own it is not enough.

We Liberal Democrats have always believed in the power of local activism and local democracy. We know about the power of localism because local knowledge is key to tailoring the solutions that work best in each community. As a local councillor for ten years and cabinet member on Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council I saw for myself how the best policies usually arise from grassroots democracy that unlocks the intelligence and imagination of local communities.

Democracy can never be too local. We recognise that in a country as diverse as ours what works in one area might not work everywhere. One size does not fit all. And we trust every person with the freedom and responsibility to make the best choices for their neighbourhoods and their lives.

Moreover, policies that arise from the grassroots have a democratic credibility that top-down policies – however successful – can never match.

Never is this more important than now, when we need people together to beat the virus. Each local area needs organisations that can coordinate local action, advise and support the isolated and back up the NHS in their efforts to test, treat and trace everyone who might have the virus.

Local councils have the tools and the corporate knowledge to play their part in this health emergency. We Liberal Democrats must once again raise our voices as the true champions of localism. If ‘take back control’ was ever intended to have real meaning, the best way for people to feel they are in control is by taking back control over local action and local decisions that directly affect their lives. This rings more true in a crisis like we are now facing than ever before.

Across Europe, as countries work out how to relax the lockdown, they are assessing the risks and capabilities of different communities. This devolved approach should be our approach in the UK too.

What works in Manchester works differently in Devon. Whether it is how we balance limited resources between social care and the NHS, or how we deal with evictions, homelessness or domestic abuse, or how we manage networks of people to trace the contacts of those tested positive, our local authorities are in the best position to lead and to coordinate.

But our local councils have been hollowed out after 10 years of cuts, and the income streams many councils rely on to balance the books have plummeted. There has to be a fast U-turn on local government funding to recognise its vital role in helping the country come through the crisis.

Now is the right time to recognise why we need our local governments to be strong, effective and well resourced.