Cllr Sean Fielding, leader of Oldham Council, has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, warning him of the consequences of not properly funding local services.
Celebrating the incredible response from staff and residents to the COVID-19 crisis, Cllr Fielding wrote: “Oldham’s response to the crisis is something of which we can be truly proud. A decade of austerity has left many vital services, from schools to social care, chronically under-resourced. Despite this we have seen the passion and commitment that Oldhamers have shining through as people have stepped up to help.”
The council has responded to the crisis increasing funding for social care, removing car parking charges for key workers and reducing the cost of funerals and cremations, amongst a range of other actions.
But with COVID-19 estimated to cost the council as much as £46.2m, Cllr Fielding warned that providing necessary services to tackle the pandemic would be impossible without Government support. He wrote: “Now is not the time to step back from supporting local councils. We urgently need your backing to keep up this vital work.”
The full text of Cllr Fielding’s letter to Boris Johnson was as follows:
Dear Prime Minister,
I hope you are making a full recovery after your recent illness.
I am writing to outline some of the ways in which Oldham Council and our partners have been working in recent weeks to help our residents through the COVID-19 crisis, and to make clear the vital importance of proper funding from your government to support this work.
The last few weeks have shown our society at its best, with people pulling together and services going beyond the call of duty. Now more than ever it is vital your government provides councils with the security to do our work without fear that it will come back to haunt us once the worst of the crisis is over.
Oldham’s response to the crisis is something of which we can be truly proud. A decade of austerity has left many vital services, from schools to social care, chronically under-resourced. Despite this we have seen the passion and commitment that Oldhamers have shining through as people have stepped up to help.
The council has worked with the Oldham Foodbank and local businesses to provide food to more than 1900 residents, with Oldham Leisure Centre stepping forward to provide space to coordinate resources. Our local volunteering hub, Action Together, has seen hundreds of residents coming forward offering to lend a hand in countless different ways. We’ve seen residents showing huge support for key workers, from our refuse collectors who have kept the bins emptied despite depleted numbers, to our carers and NHS staff when the council building was illuminated blue in their honour.
We’re doing everything we can to ease the pressure on local people and local businesses. We’ve removed parking charges from council car parks, to give key workers one less thing to worry about. We’ve reduced the cost of funerals and cremations. And we’ve upped resource in our business team so that grants and funds can be distributed to businesses as quickly as possible.
All of this is only possible because of the commitment of our people. But we will not recover if not properly supported by government. The loss of 60% of our revenue budget since 2010 means finances are already severely stretched. There will be very substantial costs for the council from this crisis, both in terms of demand for our services and the amount of revenue we can generate. The already deeply unfair council tax system is likely to hurt Oldham residents even more over the coming months, as people lose work or have to live with reduced pay.
The initial message from you and your Secretary of State Robert Jenrick, that we should spend whatever was needed to combat this terrible disease, and that we would be reimbursed was very welcome. It was a promise that has allowed us to be so proactive in putting the interests of Oldham residents first.
Similarly, the extra funding of £7.641m we have had to date has been welcome, and very much needed. I am deeply troubled however, by recent comments from Mr Jenrick suggesting that we may not actually receive the funding we need to complete the job against COVID-19 and fight back. We desperately need additional funding if we are to continue supporting our carers, keep people in homes, properly fed and safe. During the month of April 2020, we estimate that we will have incurred extra spending pressures of £3.6m and income losses of £3.8m. The additional Government grant to date will only just cover this. Although it is difficult to project the likely overall impact in 2020/21, initial estimates show that the total impact in additional spending and lost income could be as high as £46.2m (as presented in the recent MHCLG Covid-19 Financial Management Information form). Such a financial impact would be devastating for the Council if there is no further Government support.
Now is not the time to step back from supporting local councils. We urgently need your backing to keep up this vital work, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Cllr Sean Fielding