After years of pushing for a long-term resolution to local government funding, coronavirus has spun the world on its axis. This week the Local Government Association welcomed the delay of the Spending Review.
Central Government’s future plan for funding – alongside the fair funding review, the business rates retention plans, and the adult social care White Paper – may have been major priorities for the sector before the outbreak of COVID-19. Now, they are distractions from the job at hand.
As the sector moves from crisis, shielding the vulnerable and dealing with emergency situations; to transition, as we emerge from lockdown – or perhaps in and out of lockdown; to the new normal on the other side, the priorities will shift. But for now, finance is on the back-burner as the Government has pledged to make it work.
For the moment, the number one priority is people. Shielding the sick, vulnerable and elderly. Getting rough sleepers into accommodation. Protecting those in financial difficulty.
But the most valuable asset for local government in dealing with coronavirus – both in the midst of the crisis and in the future – is the people. Every local authority is only as good as the frontline staff that represent it.
As the national news shouts about the need to get protective gear to frontline NHS staff, that goes for care workers, too.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick is right – the lack of PPE for frontline care staff is utterly shameful.
Latest stats suggest one in four doctors are off work, sick or self-isolating, just when we need them most – but there is no spotlight on social care. Local government and the health service must all be given the resources to protect their most valuable assets.
However, it’s not the most shameful thing highlighted during this pandemic. Earlier this week, the LGA spoke out against attacks on council staff. Physical, verbal and racial abuse thrown out at the key workers who are risking their own health to help others. That is shameful.
Local government is fighting on many fronts, but one battle I truly hope it wins is to get some recognition of the achievements made by frontline workers.