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Article date - 26 May 2020
In a direct letter to the Prime Minister, backed up by a detailed paper entitled “The Case for the Liverpool City Region”, this collective action from local leaders warns that recovery from the local health, economic and social crisis caused by COVID-19 represents the greatest challenge the area has faced since 1945. And whilst local authorities have been working round the clock to mobilise the unprecedented levels of support currently needed in the region, that challenge is far from over, with the area experiencing higher than average infection and mortality rates.
In fact, councils across the City Region are spending an extra £10m per week to protect local residents and over the next six months, they estimate the bill is likely to be around £340m, with the Combined Authority also losing over £5m a week. With only £100m allocated so far from central Government, concern is growing that local authorities here are staring into a funding black hole of almost a quarter of a billion pounds.
Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region commented: “At the beginning of this crisis, local authorities were told by the Government to do “whatever it takes” to support communities. That’s what we have done – and the response from our local councils has been nothing short of incredible.
"But this response comes at a cost – and the figures involved are just startling. This is expenditure that we haven’t made by choice, but by necessity. We are putting food on the table for families who would otherwise go hungry, housing the homeless, co-ordinating a massive volunteer response, supporting those who are out of work due to the crisis, supplying PPE to our frontline workers and care homes, keeping transport running for essential journeys, and doing everything we can to help local businesses stay afloat. For an area still fighting its way through funding cuts, whilst managing higher levels of deprivation and illness than other areas in the UK, it is a monumental task.
"Our bill to deliver all this is £340m for six months – and that’s before you even consider the prospect of a prolonged period of lockdown or worse still, a second peak of infection.
"The sums of money involved are a stark indication of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on our communities. With a higher percentage of our population falling into the at risk categories than in many other areas in the UK, the levels of support we’ve needed to provide have also been disproportionately higher.”
Councillor David Baines, Leader of St Helens Council, added: "The fight against Covid-19 is the biggest challenge St Helens and Liverpool City Region have faced since 1945. Our council staff, all of them heroes, all of them key workers, have been working tirelessly to support residents, businesses and charities through this crisis. At the beginning of the crisis Government promised to do 'whatever it takes' to support them. We need them to follow through on that promise.
"That's why I've joined leaders from across the city region in writing to Government today, making the case for fair funding, St Helens faces a funding gap of about £25m at the end of this due to the fight against Covid-19.
"We can't clap key workers on a Thursday night then turn our backs on them, we have to give them the support they've given us.
"If you agree post your support online with the hashtag #LCRfightsback."
As the nation looks hopefully towards the recovery phase of this crisis, local leaders are warning that the City Region will find it almost impossible to bounce back if its local authorities are devastated by funding deficits running into hundreds of millions.
Steve Rotheram added: “The people of the Liverpool City Region are resourceful, proud and passionate. They have shown great resolve in fighting this virus and supporting each other. With their help and with the support of local services we have the foundations to build a positive future after this crisis, but we need help to make that happen.
Throughout this pandemic, Government has turned to local authorities and Mayoral Combined Authorities like those here in the Liverpool City Region to deliver on the promises it is making from Whitehall on a daily basis. We have done that, consistently. Now we need them to keep their promise to do “whatever it takes” by giving us the funding that we need to see our people and our communities through this major global crisis.”