Localism under threat

Liberal Democrats are running 53 local councils. Our response to the Covid pandemic has highlighted how important are the LibDem values of community empowerment and ensuring everyone can reach their potential.

At the beginning of the pandemic Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told council leaders to do what it takes to protect communities from Covid, gave us specific tasks and repeatedly said government would cover our costs.

In a matter of days my council has worked with communities and volunteers to set up brand new support networks to provide for vulnerable residents who are isolating, arranged shelter for all our rough sleepers and paid out £millons in grants to small businesses to help them survive. We were able to do this so quickly and effectively because we are already rooted in our communities, we understand their needs and work with local people.

But over the past few weeks government have u-turned on their promise to reimburse councils, for their lost income during Covid. So how will our cash strapped council keep afloat? How will we afford to deliver the services residents need like waste collection, planning and leisure facilities … surely, they don’t want district councils to go bankrupt, do they?

Maybe national governments just don’t understand the work local councils do and how important the functions we fulfil are? Either way, localism is under huge threat and we need to make sure Covid will not be used as an excuse for top down reorganisation of local government to centralise our functions so that Number 10 can keep a tight rein on us all.

I think it was Gladstone who said “Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear”. That rings very true at the moment.

* Cllr Emily Smith is the Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council

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7 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 8th May '20 - 5:15pm

    I fear that this is exactly what they will do, and it will be alongside a large number of other undesirable things. Read The Shock Doctrine again and be very afraid.

  • Emily,

    how is the £3.2 billion coronavirus funding allocation working https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-confirms-allocations-of-1-6-billion-funding-boost-for-councils
    The announcement says “The funding will be distributed to councils across England based on their population and the latest assessment on the challenges they are facing.”
    Are grants to small businesses and rates holidays being covered in full i.e. in addition to the funding allocation to get rough sleepers off the streets, support clinically vulnerable people and provide assistance for the public health workforce?
    You are 100% right about the crucial role of local authorities. The last thing needed now is a top down reorganisation of local government to centralise functions.

  • Emily Smith 8th May '20 - 7:30pm

    Hi Joe, the most recent tranche of funding was distributed by population size and then divided between county and district councils ( in 2 tier areas). even with the funding received, my council are about £2mill short this financial year and for the six councils in Oxfordshire we are collectively about £88mill short. The funding for business grants is separate from the funds to help cover the councils Covid costs.
    Of course with the economic downturn, district councils’ funding pressures will be felt in the coming years. If businesses close, and people are not able to afford their council tax our two main sources of income are hit hard in the medium term

  • Liberal Neil 9th May '20 - 2:57pm

    Spot on Emily.

  • Peter Hirst 10th May '20 - 1:17pm

    I find it interesting to compare the States’ response with our own. Each state decides how and when to release lock down. This provides opportunity for comparisons and a consensus rapidly emerges. We can’t even brave a difference in approach between our nations.

  • Richard Underhill 10th May '20 - 3:50pm

    Peter Hirst:
    What if the dissidents have guns?

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