They say a week is a long time in politics and that phrase certainly rang true in a week in mid-April which began with county leaders expressing anxiety over council finances due to the outbreak, but ended with the sector being given a substantive funding boost.
In his Saturday address to the nation, communities secretary Robert Jenrick praised the role councils are playing, showing his appreciation to councils and their staff for their national and local efforts. But, this substantive funding has come at a significant cost.
Even before the Government had asked councils for detailed projections on costs, the County Councils Network (CCN) had written to the chancellor at the beginning of April, outlining that no council should issue a s114 notice, due to assisting with the national effort and protecting lives.
In the week leading up to the announcement, the CCN, alongside the Local Government Association, has been at the heart of discussions with the Treasury and ministers – putting forward evidence of the unprecedented financial challenges we have faced and our concerns over cashflow and lost revenue.
The final sum of £1.6bn was bigger than initially indicated, with CCN providing evidence directly to the Treasury in the final hours of the negotiation.
I believe the positive relationships the sector built with the chancellor during his time as a local government minister last year has stood us in great stead for these discussions. It is hugely beneficial to have someone at No.11 who acutely understands local government finance.
Equally, we should be under no illusion about the scale of the challenge ahead, with an elongated outbreak impacting our cashflows and revenue streams more and more, on top of the savings councils already had to make before the outbreak.
The short-term nature of this funding has been recognised by the CCN, with county leaders calling on the Government to continually review the situation for local authorities in the coming weeks and months. But for now, we should all feel more positive that we have a Government that is willing to listen and is able to act. It is important that this money is put to good use and we continue to protect and serve our communities.
Cllr Carl Les is finance spokesperson for the County Councils’ Network and leader of North Yorkshire CC