Tory centralisation has failed us on Coronavirus. It’s time to consider the local alternatives.

We have seen how the government has acted too slow to implement a lockdown and not given councils enough resources to be able to help people locally.

Coronavirus has also shown us how the Tory government believes it is best to deal with the Coronavirus centrally rather than making more use of local government. As a Liberal Democrat I believe strongly in localism – one of the party’s founding principles.

In Ealing, despite the Council being run by the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats have managed to take a more active role than many opposition parties. Liberal Democrats in Ealing have been able to make decisions locally that affect the people we serve during the Coronavirus period.

To deal with Coronavirus effectively, we need money and support from the national government – not dictates. It is important there is trust in the local government partners. Yet this Tory government has done exactly the opposite of that.

Firstly, on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): if we had waited for the government’s supplies to arrive, our care homes would have run out very quickly. Instead we bought large supplies alongside other West London boroughs so that our care homes had regular supplies.

Furthermore, those who were shielding were told they would get food parcels – but sadly many residents did not receive food until week 9 of the 12 week programme (and even then, different residents’ religious and dietary needs have not been met nationally). If local authorities had not stepped up by delivering suitable meals to the vulnerable, did that mean many who live alone would potentially starve for up to 8 weeks? It is clear that one-size-fits-all approach is both a failure and insensitive.

A few weeks ago, the Tory government have announced a well-meaning, headline-grabbing free laptop scheme for economically disadvantaged children to assist with online learning during the pandemic. Yet the results could not be more disastrous: take the example of one Lambeth school, where only ONE laptop was allocated to 100 vulnerable pupils eligible for free school meals. From the response to his tweet, this clearly was not an isolated case.

This shameful debacle was a result of over-centralisation of procurement system. But what is the point of economies of scale when no results were achieved?  Why not trust Councils and schools buy their own laptops with national funding? The Tories turned an easy win into an own goal.

These three examples were just the tip of an iceberg of how over centralisation can ruin lives. I wonder how many deaths could have been avoided if the Government had listened to local authorities and applied to a more local approach. As a Liberal Democrat public servant, I will continue to be an advocate for localism and decentralisation.


* Gary Malcolm is the Lib Dem Group Leader in London borough of Ealing and has been a Councillor since 2002

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  • Mark Smitham 25th Jun '20 - 10:27am

    Surely only central government had the resources to furlough large numbers of people, and surely that’s the key to lockdown?

  • “These three examples were just the tip of an iceberg of how over centralisation can ruin lives”.

    It’s not over-centralisation that’s wrong in principle, it’s the cack-handed way this Tory government has handled it, especially after the Coalition had defenestrated local government between 2010-15 (didn’t the Lib Dems have something to do with that ?). The opposite of over-centralisation is of course a post code lottery.

    What’s needed is efficient properly funded policy decisions taken both centrally and locally by competent politicians and officers/civil servants. As a resident of Scotland who happens to be shielding I’m beginning to feel sorry for our friends down in England……. but then we didn’t vote for the shambolic Johnson. The support my wife and I have received has been outstanding from both local and central government in Holyrood.

  • John Marriott 25th Jun '20 - 4:11pm

    It’s not just TORY centralisation that’s failed, it’s LABOUR and COALITION centralisation that’s failed. In fact, it’s CENTRALISATION, period that’s failed, and it’s been doing it for years.

    Having financially pulled the rug from under local government’s feet gradually over decades, the latest crisis over COVID-19 response just shows what a mess we are in. It’s time to trust local people and organisations to deliver on behalf of their people. It’s not really about party politics. It’s really about common sense.

  • Peter Hirst 26th Jun '20 - 3:06pm

    Sadly many national politicians are mostly interested in big picture decisions and details bore them. It’s better for them to accept that and delegate others and implementation to local organisations giving them the power and resources to do so. This will become increasingly important as we face further global issues such as climate change.

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