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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Austerity in the Time of Coronavirus: A Choice We Can't Afford

Friday, 22 May 2020

If you asked 100 people what the most important service local authorities provide for their residents is I would bet that a decent amount of them would tell you “Adult social care”.
Ensuring that our elderly and vulnerable can continue living as full a life as possible, in dignity and comfort, is a responsibility that we take very seriously indeed. It is only right that those who have worked hard and contributed to society all their days are offered a helping hand. I haven’t met a person yet who wouldn’t rather be supported in their own home instead of in a care home whenever possible, and having the adult social care services in place to do that is good for them and good for our National Health Service.
However it’s no secret that, in the era of austerity, it is becoming harder and harder for local authorities to carry out many of the functions that our residents expect and depend upon. For the past decade, the government has slashed the funding given to councils to provide vital services and shifted the burden on to local taxpayers to make up the shortfall through council tax bills and precepts. Instead of long-term and sustainable solutions to our funding requirements, councils have had to make do with inadequate sticking plasters. But there is no sticking plaster big enough to cover up the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on local government finances.

I wrote in a previous blog that, due to reduced income from council tax payments, business rates receipts and other lost revenue on the one hand, and by massive increases in demand for services on the other, councils up and down the country now face a budget shortfall of over £10 billion. Depending on the duration of the pandemic, it is likely that this figure will go even higher. Since then research has now been released by the Local Government Association showing exactly what this devastating funding gap means for some of our most vital services. Unless the government keeps the promise they made to us at the beginning of the pandemic to provide whatever financial resources are needed to “get through this and come out the other side” we are looking at a 21% cut in Budgets across the board this year alone. It should therefore be of deep concern to all of us that a number of recent statements appear to show that the government is now attempting to back away from their commitments to us.
Despite what some may tell you, there will be no easy savings to make and no cuts that will fall in places where they won’t be noticed. Back in 2010 we talked about hard decisions, but in 2020 we will be talking about impossible decisions that will have to be made. The LGA estimates that spending reductions would amount to £1.9 billion from children’s social care, £680 million from public health and £60 million from crime fighting and community safety measures. Other services such as libraries, children’s centres, bin collections, leisure centres, public parks, road safety, gritting and street lighting to mention just a few would also be at risk of sweeping cuts. Perhaps most damaging of all, they would take £3.5 billion out of adult social care services, the equivalent of over 35,938 vulnerable people in the North West losing any care that they would otherwise be entitled to.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic it has been local government, together with our NHS and other key workers, who have been on the front lines of the struggle against this terrible virus. We know that elderly people are at far higher risk of serious illness, or even death, from coronavirus. This has put enormous strain on our adult social care workers, but despite this they have continued to protect both our vulnerable residents and our NHS from being overwhelmed by the pandemic. Local authority public health teams also have unmatched local knowledge and experience to roll out measures such as contact tracing that will no doubt be important in helping us transition safely out of lockdown when the time comes.
At a time where council services and public sector workers require support more than ever, we are facing the very real risk of the rug being pulled out from underneath our feet. This cannot be allowed to happen. Along with many other local government Leaders across the country, I have written to the government demanding that they meet their funding obligations to us and our residents in full. We are asking only what was promised to us and what we need to play our full part in the continuing struggle against this terrible pandemic. 

Posted by: Executive Leader

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