Liberal Democrats in local government responding to Covid-19

Last week I did two things that seemed unthinkable only a month ago. As Leader of the City of York Council, I took the painful decision to tell residents, tourists and shoppers to stay clear of our beautiful city and thriving city centre. Also, jarringly for me personally – although less widely reported – like so many other families, I’d missed my mother’s birthday for the first time!

These sacrifices are small when compared to those made by our healthcare workers and frontline staff, including our waste collection crews and social workers. It is for them that we must all stay at home, stay safe and help save lives. 

That’s why under our leadership City of York Council has taken swift and decisive action and made every effort to communicate with local residents. Our response to the crisis has five main components: to keep our residents informed; to prioritise essential services; support our businesses; protect the vulnerable, and empower citizens to help.

Our first job is to make sure that our residents have access to vital information that is easily understood and accessible for all. Everything can be found on our information centre, and we are delivering hundreds of thousands of leaflets and letters to ensure we reach all residents, covering everything from isolation guidance to advice for parents now home-schooling children for the first time.  

York is home to over 7000 small and micro businesses, too many of whom the COVID-19 outbreak poses an immediate financial risk. That’s why we have immediately established an additional £1 million emergency fund businesses who miss out on government support. We are also pulling as many additional levers as possible, including suspension of rent on all 350 of our commercial properties, paying service providers in advance for planned annual activity, suspending increases in fees and charges, free car parking for key workers and a license fee holiday.

During this crisis, it has been essential that we strike the right balance between protecting those at risk from the virus, and the need to provide essential services relied upon by our community. To achieve this, we have set up a £1.25 million emergency fund for residents who are struggling and offered Council Tax Relief for the most vulnerable. Likewise, we have set up a Community Support Helpline for any resident who is struggling and not getting the help they need, which will then be coordinated through our network of Community Hubs.

We had no idea how many people would volunteer when we first issued our call to action, but within days we had over 2000 York residents sign up to support their communities through this crisis. Council staff are now matching demand with volunteers, looking at which charities or community groups could do with an extra pair of hands.

In York, we will continue to show that Liberal Democrat councillors aren’t merely campaigners and caseworkers. Across local government, Liberal Democrat-led councils are responding for their communities in this time of crisis. 

This is a difficult time, and I am immensely grateful to the thousands of critical workers, frontline council staff and volunteers who are making such great sacrifices. These are the everyday heroes keeping our communities safe and supplied, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. Our job must be to provide every ounce of support we possibly can, so together we can make it through this crisis and see our city thrive again.

* Keith Aspden has been the Councillor for Fulford Ward in York since 2003 and for Fulford and Heslington Ward since 2015. Since 2019 he is the Leader of City of York Council, and the Liberal Democrat Deputy Chair of the LGA Fire Services Management Committee.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Ruth Bright 1st Apr '20 - 5:11pm

    So very pleased to see this. So many councillors and officers trying to do the right thing in different areas in different ways and they need support.

  • Simon Hebditch 3rd Apr '20 - 10:31am

    Of course, York’s initiative is to be welcomed but just one element stuck in my craw. It is of no significance whether the council is Liberal Democrat or not. Dealing with the coronavirus needs maximum effort from all local authorities as well as the NHS. I live in Lambeth and the local authority, which is Labour controlled, responded excellently. It is not a matter of party political bickering.

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