Cllr Andy Wilson is the Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance and a councillor in Larkhall ward.
These have been tumultuous and terrifying times. Although the effects of the pandemic and the lockdown did not affect us all equally it has touched upon each of our lived experiences.
The scale of the challenges we face, as we see localised lockdowns and restrictions re-imposed across the UK as the spectre of a second wave rears its head, will be unprecedented in our lifetimes. We are now entering the next period of this crisis, with the jobs retention scheme tightening, the likelihood of millions unemployed as the effects of recession bites, and increased pressure put upon our services and our ability to collect council tax, business rates and raise income squeezed.
However I am heartened that residents, businesses, community groups and public services across Lambeth have shown the very best of our borough during the Covid-19 pandemic by working together to ensure we could keep the most vulnerable in our community safe and supported.
It is important to remember that as a community, supported by the council, what we have managed to deliver:
- Over 20,000 food parcels for vulnerable residents.
- £500,000 more funding for the emergency support scheme and a £4.2m local economy hardship fund.
- Supported health and care providers to access PPE, advice and key worker testing.
- Provided 3-month rent relief for 318 businesses and VCS tenants.
- All whilst delivering essential services that our residents expect from us and depend upon.
This should be commended not only in light of the public health crisis but also the consistent reduction in funding from central government over a number of years whilst corresponding demand across many service areas has increased.
There has been significant financial impact on the council as a direct result of the pandemic which has resulted in the need for essential additional expenditure on support for vulnerable people. The allocation from government has not been sufficient to cover the money spent due to the Covid-19 response and shortfalls in income. We are looking at a blackhole of over £12 million at the end of this financial year.
The burden of austerity has too often fallen on the shoulders of the most disadvantaged in society despite our work to protect vulnerable people. As we have demonstrated during this crisis, it will fall on local government, and our partners, to pick up the pieces and start to restore public trust in our political system.
At the start of this crisis, the government told us to spend what was necessary and that they would provide “whatever funding is needed for councils to get through this and come out the other side”. Now they have all but reneged on that promise, saying local government should not “labour under a false impression” that all costs would be reimbursed, which would result in councils up and down the country being left out of pocket for doing the right thing and playing their part in combating the Covid-19 pandemic.
That is why at Full Council this week Lambeth Labour will be seeking to endorse the #10billionbailout campaign from UNISON calling on the government to provide emergency funding for councils to close the £10bn national shortfall in council funding.
It is our local services that have helped sustain Lambeth residents and it would be a betrayal for the government to renege on their promise of financial support. It is key workers on the frontline who have been rightly praised throughout the country since the outbreak, they deserve more than applause only.
Cllr Andy Wilson