Westminster does not understand us, says county council leader

The Government does not fully understand how local government works, according to the leader of Essex County Council, which could be at least £20million worse off due to coronavirus.

Leader Cllr David Finch was speaking after details of ECC’s pandemic spending were presented to the Corporate Policy and Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday May 26.

The committee heard ECC has cost pressures of around £107million, including some from extra adult social care spending and potential income losses from additional children’s social care costs and loss of income.

This is before any underlying losses on council tax and rates, which technically do not hit the revenue account until 2021/22, but may see a reduction of £40million due to people qualifying for Universal Credit.

In contrast the council has received £63.6millon from the Government, but this still leaves an estimated shortfall of £43.1million, which could reduce to £20.1million if ECC successfully claims a share of the NHS £1.3billion allocated to clinical commissioning groups.

Though this estimated shortfall of £20million may increase to £147million if additional risks totalling £127million come to fruition and have to be paid for by the council alone.

Cllr Finch said that he wanted to detail what all tiers of local government do directly to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

He said the council is submitting detailed accounts of what and where it is spending, but that combined lobbying from county and district councils need to be made to demonstrate to the Government what all tiers of local government are doing to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

He said: “We do need to come together, councils of all persuasions and to say to Government we need to explain to you what we do and how we do it so you can fully understand.

“I don’t believe Robert Jenrick, for example, fully understands how local government works and through my own MP James Cleverley, I have said to him I would like to see Robert Jenrick and explain the two sides of government in terms of districts and county.

“And to demonstrate we are working very well together to deal with this pandemic and I hope it will be a continuation when we come out of this.”

The council says it faces other numerous pressures, including costs of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies and adult social care, where there will be lingering effects on chronic health conditions both directly and indirectly as a result of the pandemic and future waves of the pandemic.

It is anticipated, once schools return, that there could be an increase in volume of Education and Health Care Plans (EHCP) which may result in an increased cost and so push the High Needs Block within the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) into further deficit.

Cllr Finch added: “But I do think (Government) needs to understand frankly local government much better than it does at the moment.

“Because there are opportunities for greater freedom and greater flexibilities in what local government is allowed to do which in many respects will fill some of the vacuum that a reduced council tax income might leave.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter