Ham&High joins calls for Whitehall to keep promises to do ‘whatever necessary’ for local councils’ post-Covid finances

Robert Jenrick is communities minister. The Ham&High is calling for the government to honour promise

Robert Jenrick is communities minister. The Ham&High is calling for the government to honour promises to support councils' Covid-19 recovery efforts. Picture: PA/Archant - Credit: Archant

Across the north London boroughs covered by the Ham&High, councils have stepped up to fund a range of emergency Covid-19 measures.

Robert Jenrick visits the Belsize streatery on 30.07.20. Pictured walking on Belsize Terrace with ow

Robert Jenrick visits the Belsize streatery on 30.07.20. Pictured walking on Belsize Terrace with owners of Charro De Rio restaurant, Asher and Vered Benari. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

From food parcels and community “hubs” to investigating the disproportionate impact of the virus and of lockdown on our BAME communities, Camden, Haringey, Barnet and Westminster Councils have spent millions – and also seen income streams fall dramatically.

At the outset of the pandemic in March, Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary said the government “stands with local councils” and would do “whatever is necessary” to support their efforts.

This newspaper is backing calls for the government to live up to this promise.

So far, the support from Whitehall for town halls has not matched the financial impact they are facing – and in response to a statement from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak in July, the London Councils group said though it welcomed further announcements of funding, it identified £2bn of financial losses across the capital this year, and said it forecasts a government compensation scheme announced would “only cover around half the losses”.

The town halls in our area have lost millions in income which usually comes from fees and charges.

READ MORE:Editor’s comment: Government cannot give our council’s a choice of ‘cuts or bust’

In Haringey, council bosses are expecting a £70m financial hit. The government said it has provided over £18m in funding. But Cllr Charles Adje, the town hall’s finance chief, said: “Despite years of austerity and cuts to our budget, and the impact of Covid-19, we have stepped up and have played a key role in helping our community through this difficult time, whether it’s supporting those sleeping rough, delivering thousands of vital food parcels to those who need them most, securing PPE or keeping services running.

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“Throughout this pandemic we’ve been spending wisely and responsibly to ensure that we are able to meet the needs of the community now and in the future.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) spokesperson said Haringey had seen £121m of government spending across the borough during the crisis.

In Camden a May report illustrated a potential £63m Covid-19-caused hole in the borough’s accounts – based on the impact of the pandemic being felt for six months.

Back then, the council had received just shy of £20m of direct funding from the government – this week the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) MHCLG said this remained the same – but added the “council, communities and businesses” in the area had received £286m from across government.

In June Camden leader Cllr Georgia Gould called on residents to join “a massive public campaign” to ensure public services get the government funding they need.

In Barnet, council leader Cllr Dan Thomas said he is confident that the July announcement should mean his borough’s costs are covered. So far, his administration has received £23m in emergency funding.

Cllr Thomas said: ““The council’s position has been improved significantly following the MHCLG announcement in July of additional funding for local authorities to help meet the financial impact of Covid-19.

“The exact level of funding from government is in the process of being confirmed, but we now expect this will be substantially closer to the costs in the current year which are estimated to be around £58million.”

In July, this newspaper reported that the situation in Westminster was as stark as anywhere – with a £23m hole in next year’s accounts rising to £91.3m by April 2023.

At a cabinet meeting discussing this, Cllr Melvin Caplan, the borough’s finance chief, said: “Although we don’t know all the answers as to where the future looks, we do know that starting this exercise early, identifying savings at an early time, then having the ability to deliver those at an early time, is the right approach.

“It’s clear over recent times that the method of working how we operate is going to change going forward.”

A spokesperson for the MHCLG said it is giving councils “unprecedented support” and this includes £4.3 billion funding, compensation for irrecoverable income losses and a scheme allowing them to spread their tax deficits”.

They added: “For relevant losses of sales, fees and charges, over and above the first 5 per cent of planned income, we’re covering 75p in the pound for revenue they haven’t been able to generate in areas including parking fees and museum entry.

“For many councils, this will be a significant portion of their income lost as result of the pandemic.”