How are councils responding to the Covid-19 crisis?

Over the coming weeks CLES will be tracking how local authorities and devolved administrations are responding to the Covid-19 crisis, and providing resources for politicians, officers and citizens to learn more. We have produced a document detailing the initiatives of which we are currently aware (Google doc) and will regularly update this so that it can become a resource for the local government community. If you are aware of a local authority taking exceptional and innovative measures please get in touch. We are looking particularly for innovations that take in:

  • Deepening the role of local state in the economy 
  • New forms of business ownership and business support 
  • Reimagining the use of property and land 
  • Financial instruments, products and services 
  • New approaches in welfare 

As Britain reels from the social and economic effects of Covid-19, it is only right that the focus has been on how national government can alleviate the crisis. This is a nationwide issue and decisive interventions in the economy from the Treasury in order to protect citizens from both a public health and economic emergency are entirely appropriate.

However, the services and functions of our local governments are going to be more important than ever in the coming months. Indeed, it seems that the role they will play will represent a return to their Victorian roots as the guarantors of public health and safety.

How will this play out? We anticipate that local leaders across the country will unite across party lines to demand more from government. Elected mayors and council leaders should get on the airwaves and Zoom calls to put consistent and polite pressure on the Chancellor to go much further in enabling them to deliver social protections for citizens. There are several areas that require urgent advocacy, particularly income support for individuals and bridging payments for businesses. Council leaders should call for all citizens to receive an emergency UBI at the Real Living Wage and ensure that any public bailout of industries is conducted in a way that produces wealth for citizens, not aviation industry billionaires. Bailing out firms and taking equity stakes – a method being discussed currently in the US – seems a sensible approach.

Internally, local authorities must now activate every power at their disposal to tackle the full effects of the crisis. In some cases, there is a need for outside the box thinking. The Severe Weather Emergency Protocol – despite the name – can be implemented year-round, and activates greater powers to help people without homes living on the streets. This should be done immediately. Councils should also be co-ordinating volunteering on the basis of local need or freezing rent, as is already being explored in Cardiff, Lewisham, and Birmingham.

The terrain on which we must all act is changing rapidly. CLES is on hand to stand with localities working to mitigate the effects of this crisis and to build better local economies out of it.

Over the coming weeks, we will be tracking how localities are responding to the urgent crisis, and providing resources for politicians, officers and citizens to learn more. You can find a sheet of the initiatives we are aware of here (Google doc) and we will regularly update this as we learn of more. But we need your help. If you are aware of a local authority taking progressive measures to support people through the Covid-19 crisis, then please get in touch.

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