Local government is less ready for the end of the transition period than it was for a no-deal Brexit last October, a Whitehall document leaked to The MJ has warned.
The secret dossier - marked ‘official sensitive’ – also said preparations by local resilience forums would be ‘uneven as several will have had to divert resource to COVID-19 and concurrent risks including winter flooding and cold weather, thereby limiting their ability to prepare’.
In addition, the report said flu, coordinated industrial action and protests could happen at the same time as a second wave amid rising community tensions.
Whitehall’s reasonable worst case scenario, which was drawn up to provide a ‘common, stretching scenario for all stakeholders to plan against,’ read: ‘There is general acknowledgement that the level of sustained activity over 2020 at the local level has resulted in a lack of institutional capacity to absorb and implement the required changes for the end of the transition period.
'This has impacted on local government’s ability to deliver changes to regulatory services and trading standards, and be ready for January 1.’
A similar doomsday classified document designed to kick start ministers into a major planning operation to ward off disaster, which was leaked in August, warned one in 20 town halls could go bust in a second COVID wave, sparking social care chaos.
The latest depressing Cabinet Office paper, which is intended to ‘help inform local partners’ planning for the end of the transition period’ on December 31, warned that an increase in inflation ‘could significantly impact adult social care providers due to increasing staff and supply costs,’ which may lead to failure.
It read: ‘While technically local authorities are responsible for ensuring continuity of provision the reality is that the onus is on Her Majesty’s Government.
‘We believe that occupancy will fall in many care homes during the pandemic period, which will make provider failures/exits more likely.
'It’s worth noting that the fees paid to providers in many areas were already at the margins of what is sustainable before COVID-19.
‘Failure of a local provider would put significant additional burden on the associated local authority as they manage the consequences.’
The report outlined the ‘potential consequences for central government’ of councils failing financially, including the need to provide additional financial support for the sector in order for it to continue to deliver ‘statutory services and government priorities’.
Planners warned of the need in ‘extreme cases, where there is serious and systemic failure’ to ‘institute statutory inspection and intervention, potentially including transferring some or all functions of the council to commissioners appointed by the secretary of state’.