Following on from James Daly, I will talk about practicalities.
The Government are forcing councils to increase council tax while simultaneously forcing them to make cuts. They are passing on the responsibility of funding the cost of covid to our local councils, and breaking the promise made to them at the start of the pandemic that they could spend “whatever it takes.” In the next few weeks, councillors in Hounslow and across the country are having to make incredibly hard decisions, on top of the many years of cuts that they have already had to make. In Hounslow, those cuts have meant virtually closing all youth services, and cutting social care when the need for care is growing. These are decisions that no councillor was elected to make, but which are forced on my council, in my constituency, thanks to a roughly 80% reduction over 10 years to the central Government grant, which once made up half of Hounslow’s income.
Even before covid, Hounslow councillors were going have to find £6 million of savings for this coming year, and £12 million for the next. They were—and still are— having to consider further cutting social care provision, as well as so-called back-office roles, which actually have an impact on the frontline, because these are the people who ensure that services change as conditions change; they are usually central to ensuring that the council is efficient, which is something that all taxpayers expect. On top of this, Hounslow has had to fund £20 million of additional spend on covid costs, as well as loss of business rates and other income.
Up to one in three families in Hounslow includes someone working at Heathrow, so job losses have had a massive impact and family incomes have been devastated. The Government’s covid grants have hardly touched the sides of the costs of responding to the community needs caused by covid. Those costs include the community hub to identify and support those who are isolated and vulnerable in order to ensure that they have food, medicines and other support. Hounslow has provided financial support to those who have lost income and, because there has been a devastating loss of income, the council has developed a “cornerstones of recovery” plan, which supports people into alternative work, helps with establishing small businesses and provides community support. But there are also many indirect costs.
Covid will leave a legacy in terms of poverty, employment, homelessness, the education gap and increased demand in social care, which will last for many years to come. The Government should work in partnership with councils and fully support the costs that they have incurred. Instead of hitting families with a triple hammer blow of council tax hikes, pay freezes, and cuts to universal credit and council services, Labour would act to secure our economy, protect our NHS and rebuild our country.