By Leader of Knowsley Council, Cllr Graham Morgan
“Responding to Covid19 will almost certainly be the biggest the upheaval that many of us will face in our lifetimes. What we are all experiencing now is unprecedented and the challenges it presents to us as individuals, as families and as a community are vast.
“Our role as the local council has always been to provide essential services and support. And as you know, after 10 years of budget cuts from government we have had to watch every penny of our spending to balance our budget and continue to provide the things that matter most to those in need.
“But what now? More and more people need our help and the Council’s income from things like car parking and business rents is dwindling rapidly. So, as well as keeping our existing services going, how do we cover the massive additional costs of things like buying additional PPE when national orders don’t arrive? How do we fund the essential food parcels we must make available for residents in crisis? And in the longer term, how do we get our high streets back up and running and our residents back into work? The list goes on.
“Apart from the obvious ‘people power’ that we need to do this, we also need the finances. Currently we are projecting that here in Knowsley we will need in the region of £20 million just to get us through this crisis. It could be even more depending on how long this all goes on. So when I hear Government Ministers thanking local councils for their efforts and promising to do “whatever it takes”, I feel buoyed that we will be able to get the support we need to support you all.
“But, sadly, that isn’t quite how things seem to be turning out. We received our first allocation of emergency funding from government about a month ago. Our share of that £1.6 billion fund was £6.758 million – a lot of money of course, but it really doesn’t go that far in this crisis. So we were pleased when the Government announced a further £1.6 billion for councils. However, this week we received confirmation that our second allocation has been cut by a whopping 39%. In fact, Knowsley’s allocation was one of the most reduced – it was the 5th biggest cut in the whole of the country. And when you consider we are still the second most deprived area in the country – and therefore have a far higher amount of need than other areas – I just can’t see why any justification.
“This week the Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has, with my support and the support of leaders across the Liverpool City Region, written to the Government to ask them to urgently rethink and ensure that funding is allocated fairly in recognition of need. I know that Sir George Howarth, Maria Eagle and Marie Rimmer – the three MPs who represent our Borough – are also writing similar letters and calling for discussions with Ministers. At the moment the Government are going off a simple population count without any consideration for the level of need that exists.
“I simply cannot fathom the logic that says that an area already disadvantaged by deprivation should get less funding to tackle the devastating impact of Coronavirus than a very affluent one, where residents are much less reliant on the support of their local council.
“We have a high number of families in Knowsley who are currently almost entirely dependent on the support we are providing. The pressures on our adult social care system are immense. When the Government is leaning so heavily on us to deliver the support that is needed, the very least they can do is make sure we are funded adequately – just like they promised.
“If we are left millions of pounds out of pocket – having already shouldered the impact of a decade of severe cuts to our public services – the recovery we all hope will follow this pandemic will be a very tough one to deliver.
“Our residents deserve as much as anyone, anywhere, to come through this and return to prosperity with decent public services, thriving local businesses, leisure opportunities and job prospects which allow them to enjoy a good quality of life.
“People in Knowsley can’t just be thrown on the scrapheap and I will continue to fight, with my colleagues, to make sure that is not the case.
“I want you to be assured that your Council will continue to do the right thing for you and your families. And we’ll keep fighting for the funding we need to deliver it. I will keep you informed of any progress in future updates.”