We need to invest properly in the local state

By Cllr David Mellen | 30 June 2020

We will never forget that the COVID-19 epidemic has had a terrible human cost. Across the 11 Core Cities, thousands of our citizens – many of them vulnerable – have died of this dreadful disease, despite the valiant efforts of NHS and social care staff.

Fighting COVID-19 has also placed a massive strain on council finances as we responded to the crisis with dedication and enormous effort.

My city of Nottingham has already warned of coming financial crisis, with a gap of £55m. We are not the only Core City that could face terrible choices over the months ahead.

As a group, Core Cities UK estimates the cost of COVID-19 to be £1.6bn and rising and the Government’s announcements so far will only meet around half of the expected spend.

At the start of this crisis we were told that Government would do ‘whatever it takes’ to help us meet the extra burden, but this message has changed over recent weeks. Now we are being asked to ‘share the burden’ and I have to tell the Government that, after a decade of austerity, we are simply unable to do so.

We argue cities, with their higher rates of deprivation and need, have been particularly badly hit. Core Cities UK has written to the chancellor setting out why cities and city regions are critical to a safe return from lockdown and future recovery.

Local government is also expected and well placed to take a leading role in local recovery but we will need funding to support this. As it stands, we are currently having to look at making in year savings which will lead to further cuts to services and resources.

But we should see any relief monies as an investment in our nation’s future. If we invest in public services now, we will get our nation up and running. If we are truly to level up – as Government wants to do – we cannot do it without helping our own and other city regions recover from the biggest national crisis since World War Two.

The human cost of COVID-19 has been terrible, but we risk adding to the toll of this epidemic by failing to invest properly in the local state.

Cllr David Mellen is Core Cities UK portfolio holder for finance and leader of Nottingham City Council

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