Last week, in what was an historic moment for the council we had our first virtual Cabinet meeting. In bracing the new technology out of necessity, we demonstrated the resilience of local government and were able to provide visible democracy during these very challenging times.
What was really heart-warming was that every member of Cabinet provided numerous examples of how colleagues and partners were rising to the challenge presented by the coronavirus pandemic. From refuse operatives collecting over 99% of bins and being applauded for their efforts by residents, to librarians delivering food parcels. Also, a host of colleagues from a range of services paying out over £40m of grants to businesses in need, there were too many to mention in an article like this. It is actions like these that will be long remembered when hopefully we move into the new normal of a post COVID-19 world.
It is in this spirit of everyone pulling together, everyone focused on trying to maintain vital services to residents and businesses alike, that underpins our approach to these challenges. It is also how we need the relationship between local and central government to be throughout this crisis and way beyond as we move into recovery. We very much welcomed the first tranche of £1.6bn of support from Government which was quickly and decisively delivered. The second tranche felt a little less forthcoming and I think the sector feared that the mood music was changing from the initial ‘whatever it takes’ mentality.
We probably all recognise that Government cannot sign a blank cheque without checks and balances. But we must also recognise that if local government doesn’t have the full backing of Government, and the surety that the money we need will be there, then we will have to realign our decisions and actions within the financial restraints. I fear this could mean we are not in a position to deliver the much-needed support that our partners in health, our communities and our businesses need both now and in the future.
These are difficult times and the show must go on. It’s vital that local government has the backing to ensure that it does.
Tony Kirkham is director of resources at Newcastle City Council