In these dark days we are looking to Christmas to give us some festive cheer. A colleague of mine was persuaded by her children to put up the Christmas tree over half term. She was not the only one. A range of celebrities have also popped up on social media with their homes festooned in festive lights and decorations.
More seriously, we are trying to make sense of a very uncertain future. Given the current lockdown we are finding it very difficult to plan. How big does the turkey or nut roast have to be? Will the shops reopen again for that bit of last-minute shopping? Will we have money in the bank to afford the type of Christmas we want?
Likewise, local authorities are watching infection figures every day and trying to work out what the situation might be by the time the second lockdown ends on December 2. For example, what will be the restrictions?
We are working tirelessly to implement support schemes for residents and businesses to help them through these very uncertain times. Whether that’s food packages or payments in lieu of wages forgone as they have done the right thing and self-isolated. Moreover, helping businesses survive the lockdown so they can reopen and hopefully thrive again. How do we help our city centres bounce back? How do we help our residents celebrate the festivities as safely as possible?
If we are finding it hard to plan for the next few weeks, how hard is it to plan for the next few months? From a financial planning point of view, it’s even harder to plan for the next few years, as we look to consult our residents on next year’s budget and the medium-term financial plan.
Personally, I would like a clear and positive Comprehensive Spending Review which adequately reflects the demands on local government as an early Christmas present. And I would like a local government settlement that allows us to meet the needs of our residents and businesses. One that reflects the fact that the financial impacts of COVID will be with us long after Christmas.
Happy Christmas and have a great 2021!
Tony Kirkham is director of resources at Newcastle City Council