Tackling Covid blamed for yet more threats to public services
- Credit: Mike Brooke
More services in Tower Hamlets could be at risk after years of cuts because of massive public spending to fight the Covid pandemic, researchers have warned.
Costs of tackling the crisis, coupled with a massive hit to revenues during lockdown, could mean town hall coffers in worst-affected areas of the country like the East End run dangerously low.
Funding gaps to local authorities are likely to reach £1bn across the country as the full impact is felt over the coming years, researchers at local government trade union Unison believe.
Public services will be at risk “unless Westminster acts urgently”, the union warns.
Tower Hamlets has already had to make £200m in cuts in the decade before the pandemic because of reduced government funding and demands for services, alongside a population expansion from the massive Docklands regeneration.
“We don’t yet know the extent of the financial impact of the pandemic,” Cllr Candida Ronald admitted. “Various government support packages come to an end this year.
“We face uncertainty waiting for decisions from Westminster about council funding reforms, how this might affect our recovery and public services.”
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The council is facing having to tighten its belt by a further £30m in the next three years because of a decade of austerity, changes to council funding and now the Covid crisis.
Mayor John Biggs said: “Council budgets were already in a precarious place before the pandemic, now the cumulative impact of austerity and Covid.
“We welcome additional support the government has provided but it doesn’t go far enough, nor addresses the underfunding over the last 10 years. This needs to change.”
The mayor is backing Unison’s Save Our Services campaign, which launched this week to call on better government funding for local councils.
Many authorities face a bleak financial outlook, a report last month by the National Audit Office showed. This is due to “a combination of high funding gaps and low reserve levels” which means some town halls “are at risk of financial failure”.
Tower Hamlets has already gone through a swingeing period of cuts which has closed day care centres, children’s nurseries and youth clubs in the past four years, with the latest threat to public libraries.