Counties will continue to deliver

By Simon Edwards | 07 December 2020

Last week, all but one of the county and unitary councils in the County Councils’ Network membership have moved from lockdown straight into Tier 2 or 3 restrictions, with Cornwall being the lucky winner.

For most of us this feels like Groundhog Day, but it is a reminder, if we needed it, that the virus is here to stay for at least the first half of 2021.

Local government has shown remarkable resilience and adaptability to so adeptly react to support individuals, communities and businesses through the shifting restrictions while maintaining vital public services amidst such uncertainty.

Our member councils have set up local test and trace systems which have been shown to be far more effective than the much-derided national scheme, and these efforts will be crucial if communities are to reduce infection rates, move down tiers and fully open up their economies.

Our councils used the Local Welfare Assistance Fund in the summer to continue to provide crisis support to households who were struggling to afford food, fuel and other essentials.

Many also stepped up to provide free school meals vouchers for young people over the autumn holidays, with others using existing schemes to deliver support to the most vulnerable. With the Government now providing funding for a Winter Grant Scheme, councils will be able to better target that support over the Christmas and Easter holidays.

Recognising that time was of the essence for smaller traders, our unitary members got business support grants swiftly out the door – with Cornwall Council the first authority in the country to administer over £200m worth of payments.

The Spending Review delivered a rollover of grants and some additional funding, if not the long-term stability for council finances that is so urgently needed. The next few months will be no easier for our communities, but local government has already proven the importance of locally led, rather than centrally imposed, solutions.

I have no doubt our members will continue to deliver for their communities and businesses – with one eye on a post-COVID future which evidence shows should be genuinely localist.

Simon Edwards is director of the County Councils Network

@1SimonEdwards

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