The last Association of County Chief Executives (ACCE) column for The MJ reflected on the initial response from local government to the coronavirus outbreak – a period that, while only a few weeks ago, feels like a lifetime ago.
While every day brings fresh challenges, counties are thinking about the medium-term response.
It was in this vein that the County Councils’ Network called for an ‘income guarantee’ for councils to address lost income streams, predominantly from council tax and business rates.
The network has set this at £5bn initially – and it is this type of guarantee that will allow our finance officers to plan with confidence for the year knowing they can balance their budgets. This is crucial – giving us all the confidence to plan and avoid the spectre of the s114 notice.
The additional costs of coronavirus will still pose a medium-term challenge, too. May’s data shows that coronavirus related costs and non-tax based lost income have risen by 9% from April in counties, with some fearful they will exhaust the funds given to them by the Government by the end of July.
Setting aside the financial pressure, we have all learned a great deal through this experience. For me, one of the highlights has been the support from my county chief executive colleagues. We’ve been meeting weekly, testing the video conference technology to the full, swapping perspectives, sharing information and reminding ourselves that public health and safety is at the heart of this.
In the heat of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) challenges, or when we were (and sometimes, still are) losing sleep over how to best support our care homes, it’s been extremely helpful to know that we can come together in a crisis and perform at our very best. Of course, this is not unique to counties and I applaud the efforts of the entire local government sector, which has come to the fore, when it really matters, and, no doubt, will stay there, on the long road to recovery.
Anthony May is chairman of the ACCE