Covid - A Year On: Haringey Council leader Ejiofor on 'managing chaos'
- Credit: Haringey Council
“If I was writing a memoir of the pandemic, and I dare say mine would have the same title as the prime minister’s, it would be a year of managing chaos.”
A year ago, the thought of Haringey Council’s Labour leader comparing memoirs with the Conservative prime minister might seem a little far-fetched.
But Covid has turned politics, and people’s lives, upside down.
“It really has been that difficult day-in day-out,” Cllr Joseph Ejiofor told the Ham&High.
“You come into work and you’re not quite sure which part of the puzzle you're going to need to move around.”
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There have been more than 20,000 coronavirus cases in Haringey – and 501 people have died (up to March 5).
“Every single death has been a tragedy, not just for the family concerned or people who knew them, but for the community as a whole,” Cllr Ejiofor said.
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“We can't say that we can smile and that it's been a success, but from a number of things I’ve seen, I’m well aware it could have been substantially worse.”
During the height of infections, “virtually all” of the council’s everyday operation was dedicated to its Covid response.
But now, the town hall is on a “downward slope of a bell curve,” its leader said.
“When we look back at the start, it was a health crisis. Then from there it almost exploded. It became a food crisis.
"Then there were issues with people living and it became a housing crisis. Then when we saw kids not going to school it became an educational crisis.
“And then the overall impact upon our communities and our businesses spread into an economic crisis.
“It really has been a whole set of different crises.”
From the start of the pandemic, the council’s ‘connected communities’ scheme helped support the most vulnerable residents.
The town hall set up a food distribution hub with Tottenham Hotspur FC and Alexandra Palace that delivered more than 20,000 food parcels.
To give laptops to pupils from poorer families, £200,000 was pledged.
But as residents have been left poorer by the pandemic, at the same time they have needed – and will continue to need – greater help to recover.
To meet this need, Cllr Ejiofor said a future theme of its finances would be a combination of “less money coming in, and more money going out”.
Despite claiming the town hall “was in a better position than before”, he warned the council has a £7.6 million deficit in its Covid finances. In April, council tax will rise by 5%.
“There is going to be a big economic impact [from Covid]. There's no way to get around it,” Cllr Ejiofor said.
“There are big names that have disappeared from the high street and if big names go then the reality is that some of the smaller names will go, and then some of the supply chain will go.
“Our economy is going to shrink. Business rate income will be less and a number of businesses have had ‘holidays’ from paying commercial rent.
“Some businesses aren’t going to be coming back, that's just the reality of it.”
To respond to the financial toll of the pandemic, Cllr Ejiofor warned commercial revenues from its public spaces would form a key part of the recovery.
He pointed to concerts in Finsbury Park as an example of an important source of income for the future. The halting of the site's festivals has led to losses of more than £1m from its parks budget.
"People may not like it but it's an essential balance for spending on our open spaces that we have commercial events in the park,” the leader said.
“There are things that people will see on a day-to-day basis that won't be perfect, they won't be what we wanted to do, but these are all in some shape or form impacted by coronavirus.”
As with businesses across the borough, traders in hospitality have faced a torrid time.
Outdoor dining areas – “streateries” – have been proposed to boost cafes and restaurants, but Cllr Ejiofor said many of Haringey’s roads aren’t suitable.
“Thinking off the top of my head, would it really work on Muswell Hill Broadway? If we took a line of parking out, is the pavement wide enough to go all the way down, and then also have traffic coming safely up and down?
“Look I’m up for having that conversation. I’m certainly not saying no but it’s got to be part of how we move forward. We are completely open to it as a concept.”
Throughout the pandemic, how people travel, and how this will change, has become another important discussion.
“I might be a little bit of an oddity... but I love driving and I’m 100% up for LTNs,” Cllr Ejiofor said.
“Quite frankly, as a car driver there are places I shouldn't have the opportunity to take a shortcut through.
“LTNs are about creating better air quality for residents and reducing the negative particulates in the atmosphere.
“They’re about reducing the impact of climate change and keeping us fitter, making it more difficult for people to drive short journeys.
“Really and truly, get out of your car and walk. Get out of your car and get on your bike.
“That’s got to be the message because ultimately all of this is about creating a better and safer planet for all of us going forwards, and that may mean a little bit of inconvenience here and now.
“Car drivers, just get over it. That's what's got to happen to the benefit of the planet.”
Returning to a year of Covid, Cllr Ejiofor said he is proud of the council’s and the community’s response.
He called 2020 “the year that we'll look back on and see how everything changed”.
“No two days have been the same,” he said.
“Every day has finished differently to how it started. And I can imagine prime minister Johnson has had one or two of those days himself.”