Council are entitled to more support from Government

Thursday, 27th August 2020

Rishi Sunak

Chancellor Rishi Sunak

THREE words sum up a significant report on the financial health of Camden in the Covid Age: risk, challenging and pressure.

All three words, especially “challenging”, are peppered throughout a long document shortly to be discussed by the Labour leadership.

It’s a report with a dry title: Update on the Financial Impact of Covid 19 on the Council.

But the subject is far from dry and academic. It affects the health and well being of thousands of families in the borough.

Basically, the Covid pandemic has throttled the local economy. The council has lost millions of pounds because of the lockdown and other facets of the crushed economy – parking fees, normally a source of revenue for the Town Hall, whatever readers might think of the charge, virtually petered out.

Fees collected from leisure centres vanished. Revenue from business rates reduced under government policy – again another loss.

The list is pretty endless – and it adds up to almost £41million. Against that the council has had to increase expenditure by housing men and women, especially in the restaurant trade, who became homeless. Then general costs went up for additional “social care”.

To put it in Town Hall jargon, the report points out that the “total financial pressure” is £55.4million.

The government has given local councils extra funds, and offer bidding for various “pots of money”. But the fact remains Camden is £55.4m down in what could be regarded as a current account.

To help out, the government gave a general Covid grant of £19.3m and this, together with other grants, means the council is facing a net “pressure’ of £32.5m.

That’s a big deficit. It will mean digging into reserves. It means delaying essential projects.

Local people will bear the burden whatever happens.

No doubt the government will be lobbied by queues of local councils clamouring for extra funds – and each one will make a good case.

It’s hard to know how this extraordinarily bad government will react – it has done so many U-turns in recent weeks, it would not be surprising if the Chancellor were to suddenly pull out another wad of cash along the lines that propped up the economy with furloughed pay for employees and other grants.

But it is a big “if”. Labour should start campaigning. The public will be able to see how it has lost money from virtually abandoned services.

The council may be inefficient here and there. Money may have been allowed to drain away when tight management would have stopped the flow.

But Covid-19 changed everything. The people of Camden have a right to be given greater support from the government.

Labour must take up the cause.

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