LEADERS at Tameside Council have backed calls to the Government for more support in shouldering the financial burden of the coronavirus pandemic to help protect future services.
New research by the Local Government Association has shed light on the financial strain that fighting the coronavirus pandemic has had on local authority finances, with a warning that up to 36,000 vulnerable people in the North West could lose care services this year if the government backtracks on its promise to support local authority funding in full.
Local authorities up and down the country are facing a shortfall that could run up to £13 billion as a result of lost revenues in areas such as council tax payments and business rates receipts on the one hand, and from a massive spike in demand for health services, social care and housing support on the other.
However, the government has so far only pledged £3.2 billion of extra funding (of which Tameside will receive £13.9 million), leaving a £10 billion black hole that local authorities will have to find from existing budgets unless more money is forthcoming.
This would amount to 21% of their total funding, forcing cuts across the board including taking £3.5 billion out of adult social care this year alone. This is the equivalent of around 28,000 long-term care places and over 8,000 short-term recipients of care in the North West.
Other key services at risk if the government fails to plug the funding gap include libraries, children’s centres, bin collections, leisure centres, public parks, road safety, gritting and street lighting.
Ministers initially promised to stand behind local authorities coronavirus-led budget reductions, with assurances given in March that “whatever funding is needed for council to get through this and come out the other side” would be provided. However, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has now told MPs that councils should not “labour under a false impression” that all costs would be reimbursed.
Tameside Council Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington said: “It’s no secret that councils have suffered the brunt of ten years of austerity, and the entire local government sector has performed miracles in continuing to deliver both vital services and balanced budgets. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown that delicate balance into a tailspin. There is simply nothing left to cut.
“A 21% reduction across the board to fill our funding gap would lead to, among other measures, taking out £3.5 billion from adult social care, £1.9 billion from children’s social care, £680 million from public health and £60 million from crime fighting and community safety measures. Along with our brave NHS workers, local authority services such as carers and bin men have been at the frontline of the fight against coronavirus. They deserve their fair share to keep running these vital services, both during the pandemic and in the long recovery to come”
Executive Member for Adult Social Care and Population Health Cllr Eleanor Wills said: “Everyone in Tameside knows the enormous strain that the coronavirus pandemic has put on our carers, and our friends and family who rely on their care. 35,938 vulnerable people losing care across the North West would be a hammer blow at a time when they need our support more than ever.
“Local authority public health teams have unmatched local knowledge and experience to roll out measures such as contact tracing to help us transition safely out of lockdown, but at a time when our experience should be supported we are finding that the rug is being pulled out from beneath our feet. £10 billion is a considerable sum but only a small price to pay to protect the most vulnerable in our societies, as well as relieving the strain upon vital NHS functions. I ask the government to think again, do the right thing and put vulnerable people first”.