Throughout this crisis, local councils have been on the frontline of fighting covid-19 and I would like to pay tribute to every member of local authority staff across the country for the work they have done over the last year, particularly the staff of Salford City Council. Whether it is through providing support to vulnerable people who need it or ensuring that the bins are emptied, councils are playing a vital role in keeping people safe and well during the pandemic. Despite seeing its budget cut by £211 million over the past decade, Salford City Council has stepped up during the crisis to provide grant support to businesses, put in place extensive infection control measures in care homes to protect residents, and developed contact tracing that is much more effective than the Government’s scheme.
Local councils have more than lived up to their end of the deal; central Government have not. There is still no social care funding settlement, despite the additional costs to social care providers this year. Local authorities do not have the certainty of the resources they need to properly support older and disabled people through the crisis. The Secretary of State said at the start of the first lockdown that the Government stood ready to do whatever was necessary to support councils in their response to coronavirus, but now the Government are asking councils to pass the costs of support for communities during the pandemic directly back to local residents. In the same month that furlough will end for over 16,000 residents in Salford, unless it is extended, the Government want councils to pass a £100 increase on to struggling families.
Council tax is a regressive way to raise funding. The areas that are most able to raise money through this measure are also those that are less deprived. In Surrey, a 5% council tax increase raises £38 million, whereas in Salford that raises only £6 million. Therefore, the measure will raise six times more in Surrey than it will in Salford. The Government should not be allowing vital public services to be subject to this kind of postcode lottery. This is a national crisis and we need national solutions to the problems we are facing.
Greater Manchester has been under more stringent restrictions than other areas since last July, with six months of tight and then tighter restrictions that hit people’s livelihoods and weakened businesses, causing many to fail, and caused mental health stresses affecting the wellbeing of families. Rather than trying to avoid responsibility and shift the burden on to the residents in areas that have been hardest hit by covid, the Government must live up to the commitment they made last spring and do whatever is necessary to support councils during the pandemic. This is no time to impose a 5% council tax rise on families. I join the call on the Government to scrap this inflation-busting tax increase and support councils with the funding they need.