Sunderland Labour Group leader Councillor Graeme Miller has written to the Prime Minister to express deep concerns about a lack of funding for Local Authorities, that he says will fail communities, front-line staff and the country during the Covid-19 crisis.
In a letter sent to the PM this evening, Cllr Miller calls on the Government to recognise the role of councils in the national effort to beat Coronavirus, and asks him to ensure they’re given the support they need to carry on giving essential support to people and businesses across the UK.
Dear Prime Minister
COVID-19 – THE FINANCIAL DEMANDS FACING LOCAL GOVERNMENT
I hope you are recovering well.
I am writing to express my deep concerns about the consequences of your Government not providing further financial support for local authorities as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the crisis and the practical challenges this brings to maintaining essential services, we remain committed to supporting our residents and businesses at their time of greatest need. Whilst I appreciate that the Government is responding in real time to an unprecedented crisis, we are at the frontline and need further support, both in terms of finances and clear guidance.
The demand for, and cost of, social care grows at a time when our staff are facing additional pressures, including increased levels of sickness within our teams. We are dealing with daily uncertainty around the level of PPE, meaning we cannot make commitments to our staff that they will have the most basic levels of protection as we ask them to deal with increasingly difficult and heart-breaking situations.
We are administering several multi-million pound grant schemes on behalf of Government, with guidance that is, at times, confusing and which has unintended consequences of only supporting certain organisations. We are forced into a position of telling individual charities that they do not qualify for financial support, at a time when we will need our voluntary sector partners the most.
We are providing a lifeline to some of our most vulnerable residents, but are expected to do so when the shielding list of the people you expect us to support is changing rapidly, often several times a day.
Local Government has risen to these challenges with determination but unfortunately these services all cost significant amounts of money. We simply cannot afford to take responsibility for this extra spending, especially having faced ten years of ongoing government cuts to budgets.
Sunderland City Council has already been forced to make savings of over £315m over the last ten years because of continuing Government cuts. I welcomed the extra £10.6m of funding received by Government to help us deliver the local response to this crisis. I was reassured by the repeated assurances from your Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Chancellor that this would be the first set of grants for local authorities. We heard clear instruction that Councils should spend whatever it takes, with a commitment that we would be reimbursed by Government. But it seems that I was mistaken.
We submitted our return to MHCLG on Wednesday which set out, to the best of our ability, our estimates for the financial impact on the council. Our estimates will not be accurate; given the inherent uncertainty about how long we will face the immediate challenges for, let alone the longer-term impact, these can only be estimates for the time being. However, they paint a stark picture.
We estimate that our costs will increase by £5.933m. Of this, adult social care costs – not funded from other routes – account for £3.658m. We have assumed some sort of normality will have returned after three months in making these estimates. If things last for longer, these costs will of course grow.
There is an even bigger impact on our income position. We estimate that the impact from March 2020 to March 2021 will be £19.171m. Despite the best efforts of our residents and business to continue to pay their bills, we know that many will not be able to. Even after the support put in place to support council tax and business rates, we estimate a reduction in collection of around £10m over the period. Other Commercial income, and fees and charges have already dropped significantly. Income from leisure centres and car parking stopped overnight. Rental income from our properties has fallen as our tenants struggle to cope with the economic impact of the pandemic.
The longer term will see even more hardship. It will take many years to rebuild our income base. The financial support measures must reflect that.
In total, we estimate that the cost pressures will be around two and a half times the funding you have committed so far. We expected more funding to follow, but now we hear Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, talk about “sharing the burden”. This worries me intensely.
Without extra funding, we simply cannot deliver the services we need to. We will not be able to provide emergency food and money to local families facing extreme poverty. We will be forced to make reductions in social care services, reducing support to the most vulnerable in society, as well as job losses amongst our heroic care workers. There will be a slowing down of patients leaving hospital, with unthinkable consequences for our NHS. We will not be able to support our businesses and community organisations. We will not be able to provide safety nets for our vulnerable children. We will not be able to keep our residents healthy and active, living in safe and pleasant communities.
This impacts a wider area than just Sunderland. Without our commitment to make available a brand new building for Nightingale North East – without any certainty of any funding to replace the lost income as a result – this vital regional resource could not have been mobilised as quickly as it was. I dearly hope the 460 beds will not be required. But if they are, we will have played our part.
We now need the Government to play its part and honour its financial commitments. Let me be clear. If you don’t, you will be failing our communities at a time when they need us most. You will be failing our front-line staff, who selflessly put themselves in harms way. You will be failing the country.
I look forward to hearing your response.
Cllr Graeme Miller
Leader, Sunderland City Council