Coronavirus: Islington Council leader warns of ‘catastrophic consequences’ for public services if government fails to make further funding available during pandemic

PUBLISHED: 12:57 16 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:01 16 April 2020

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, speaking at a Fair Futures Commission meeting at Arts and Media School Islington. Photo by Em Fitzgerald

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, speaking at a Fair Futures Commission meeting at Arts and Media School Islington. Photo by Em Fitzgerald

Em Fitzgerald

The leader of Islington Council has called on the government to wipe local authorities’ debts – and he’s warned of “catastrophic consequences” to public services if the government fails to make further funding available during the pandemic.

Cllr Richard Watts has spoken out after communities secretary Robert Jenrick allegedly backtracked on promises for further funding for cash-strapped local authorities dealing with the pandemic during a call with various council leaders on Tuesday.

It’s claimed Mr Jenrick talked of “burden sharing” during the call and was noncommittal on whether further cash would be forthcoming to councils.

Cllr Watts told the Gazette: “I think this would be an appalling breach of trust between councils and the government because I have been on repeated phone calls with ministers where they have used phrases like: ‘Spend what you want/ don’t let money be an object/ more will be coming’, and now there is talk of the money not being there. Islington Council got a grant of about £9million plus some other bits and bobs from government [to deal with the pandemic] which we have pretty much already spent on crisis response and doing what’s necessary. [...] If the government now backtrack on its promise of further funding down the line it will have catastrophic consequences both in what the council is already planing to do in response to this crisis, and for what will happen to public services in the borough once the crisis is over.”

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Cllr Watts warns this would hamper the council’s ability to adequately fund social care, and mean it may no longer be able to offer service such as free parking for key workers during the pandemic.

Islington Council has already had about 70 per cent of its core funding from central government slashed since 2010.

Cllr Watts added: “Councils have become the fourth emergency service in this crisis. The NHS has been given some money and had its debts wiped out, quite rightly. So have some other services, and exactly the same needs to happen with councils, and if the government fails councils and abandons us the government is effectively abandoning communities across this country.”

A MHCLG spokesperson said: “The secretary of state has been clear that we will support councils to provide services to their communities during the pandemic.

“We’ve already provided £1.6 billion of additional funding and have announced new measures to help ease immediate financial pressures faced by councils in England today.”

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