By Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter
Council leaders have called on the government to commit to covering the costs of the coronavirus pandemic.
Haringey’s leader Cllr Joseph Ejiofor called government funding so far provided to cover the costs of dealing with COVID-19 a “drop in the ocean”, while Enfield’s leader Cllr Nesil Caliskan has warned of a financial “catastrophe” facing local authorities as a result of the crisis.
Both council leaders have asked for reassurances from the government it will provide the necessary funding.
Campaign group the TaxPayers’ Alliance has called on the government to avoid hiking taxes to cover the cost of the pandemic. It wants council tax to be frozen while the country tackles COVID-19.
Haringey Council said it cannot meet the extra costs of dealing with the pandemic, and it is for the government to address how to provide councils with the necessary grant funding.
Cllr Joseph Ejiofor, leader of Haringey Council, said: “The initial message from Westminster was unequivocal: ‘We have to protect our residents. We have to slow the spread of this global pandemic. Local government should spend what is necessary and national government will reimburse you later.’
“From delivering food parcels, to support with finances and adapting social care and mental health and wellbeing services, we’re doing all we can to make sure residents have the help they need. I’m really proud of the work we have been able to do, particularly in partnership with the community.
“The government has allocated £15.5 million to Haringey, but it’s going to be a drop in the ocean compared to what we have committed – and must commit – to keep this vital work going. The biggest concern – which I’m sure council leaders across London share – is that the government keeps its promise and stands financially behind us.
“This is public money and we’re spending it wisely, but we are simply not funded to cover the cost of all the emergency measures we are rightly putting in place and we still have to balance our books.
“Rather than guaranteeing that we’ll get that money back, the government now seems to be talking about ‘burden sharing’ and ‘prioritising’. I’m not happy about that. Councils must focus on delivering services on the front
line now – we can’t be looking over our shoulders worrying about how we pay for it tomorrow.”
On April 20, after providing £1.6 billion of support for local authorities dealing with the pandemic, communities secretary Robert Jenrick said: “I promised local government would have the resources they need to meet this challenge and today demonstrates my commitment to doing just that.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with local government and my priority is to make sure they are supported so they can continue to support their communities through this challenging time.”
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