North-East councils have written a joint letter to the Prime Minister calling for more financial support to cover their financial pressures and help them lead the coronavirus recovery.
The letter, which has been sent by Cllr Simon Henig, on behalf the Association of North East Councils (ANEC), outlines some of the measures that would help ease the pressure on authorities now and in the future.
Cllr Henig, who is chair of ANEC and leader of Durham County Council, says that while council leaders in the region welcome the initial government funding that they have received, they warn that much more is needed given the scale of the short-term pressures, and the costs associated with longer term recovery.
Included in the letter, Cllr Henig states: “It is extremely important that I set out a number of issues and areas for consideration which if not addressed will undoubtedly impact on our ongoing efforts to shape and lead the recovery that is essential to reinvigorating and regenerating our local economy and communities.
“We are very clear that we see local government leading place-based recovery across the north east. We cannot do this alone and will need on-going government support for the financial pressures we are facing.”
Some of the pressures facing local councils in the short term include the additional cost of the support effort, including supporting local care homes and other care settings, the cost of providing PPE, and supporting local suppliers.
Authorities are also facing significant reductions in revenue because of lower levels of council tax income, the closure of buildings and facilities, a reduction in car parking income, and regional and local transport pressures arising from reduced passenger numbers and current restrictions. Many councils are also struggling to make savings that were planned for 2020/21.
The letter asks the government to immediately agree to more funding that will cover all COViD-19 related pressures and losses of income for local authorities, as well as other measures including full reimbursement for all Council Tax Support applications and asking government to fully cover business rates collection shortfalls for the next three years.
Council leaders are also stressing that they need the resources to lead the longer-term recovery of local communities and businesses following the impact of coronavirus.
To do this, and to increase productivity and opportunities in the North East, they believe a sustainable financial settlement is essential, over at least three years.
They are also asking for additional capital funding for investment in infrastructure in order to accelerate economic growth locally, and to ensure long-term funding is provided to support the region’s transport infrastructure and providers.
They recommend that the government ensure that any funding takes full account of the needs in local areas and that longer-term pressures on adults and children’s social care services are considered. The government has also been asked in the letter to consider how best to support local authorities’ council tax income, focusing on whether the system remains fit for purpose and whether the council tax referendum principles could be removed to make way for more locally accountable decision making.
ANEC has asked for discussions with government over the issues to ensure local communities and businesses in the north east are not disadvantaged.