Coventry City Council, like others around the country, is trying to cope with the massive and far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to deliver the quality services our residents deserve.
It has affected every area of our work, from schools to care homes, refuse collection, events, and so much more. It has hit at the heart of our city’s life, causing damage to trade, business and tourism which were growing massively ahead of our year as UK City of Culture 2021.
I believe Coventry – and every local authority - has responded magnificently to these new challenges and we will continue to do all we are asked and more to protect our residents and our city.
However, we need more help from Central Government to do that effectively.
Coventry has now been named as one of the local authorities to be part of a new, national testing programme and we have been told we will eventually be able to oversee around 32,000 Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) each week – equating to roughly 10% of our population every seven days.
This is, of course, welcome news, but it is not, in itself, an answer to the wider issue of COVID-19.
We have said from the very start that a well-structured and well run test and trace service was crucial to beating this pandemic
It was promised by the Government, but they have failed to deliver.
Now, the roll-out of this LFT testing programme has hit headlines around the country and given people hope, but we in local government are expected to deliver this significant challenge every week but know that it has come with no additional funding and no extra support.
That means extra expense for local authorities, extra work for our already hard-pressed frontline staff – some of whom we will need to redeploy – and extra pressure on our already shrinking budgets for other key services.
This is despite the Government itself saying that the next line of defence is testing and that local authorities are the key channels to support that.
Yes, testing will help to combat the spread of COVID-19 and we are delighted to see these tests come to our city and help our residents – but the truth is that local councils are implementing these tests; we are the ones rolling them out and doing the work, and the Government needs to recognise that and reimburse us all.
In September, halfway through this financial year, we reported that COVID-19 was expected to cost our Council over £39m by the end of the financial year, which is £7m more than the level of emergency funding received.
That deficit figure is still rising as we try and cope with a second lockdown and all that means.
Now we are looking at how we will introduce this testing with our local, limited and ever-shrinking resources.
There are no extra people, no cavalry coming over the hill – just the same hard-pressed health and care workers and council staff who have been working above and beyond for the past eight months.
We will, of course, do all we can and we will work with our partners to find the best way of delivering the tests. That is our One Coventry way.
We need to get the delivery right before we start offering tests to the wider public. We will start with our own workforce, those running key services, protecting the vulnerable and keeping our city going in these times.
We will then quickly look to our public sector partners, major businesses and universities.
Then we will take the testing out to areas with high infection rates and where testing levels have been low.
We hope these tests will make a difference - that they can help people visit their loved ones in care homes and return to work. We also hope that they can help our city stage a memorable year as UK City of Culture – a year that means more to us now than ever.
The coming weeks are critical – and they will not be easy.
The sterling efforts of the first local authorities to take up mass testing have shown us that this programme can work, but they have also shown how much work is involved.
We have no extra capacity in terms of staff to support us, only the dedicated staff who have been on the COVID frontline since the very beginning.
We know they will do a magnificent job and that they will go above and beyond to make this testing programme work and keep people safe – they should not be asked to do so without the right support and funding from Central Government.
Cllr George Duggins is leader of Coventry City Council