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Local Authority Funding: Covid-19

Volume 677: debated on Monday 15 June 2020

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the adequacy of funding for local authorities during the covid-19 outbreak. (903171)

We have paid an unprecedented £3.2 billion to local authorities to address the pressures that they are facing in response to the pandemic, including £17.9 million to the hon. Lady’s own council, on top of an increase of £13.5 million in its core spending power this year. We have introduced measures worth more than £5 billion to help to ease councils’ immediate financial pressures. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are currently working closely with Cabinet colleagues on a comprehensive plan to ensure councils’ financial sustainability over the financial year ahead.

I thank the Minister for his response, but the financial cost of covid-19 to Enfield council is expected to be more than £68 million and the Government have so far funded only a fraction of that burgeoning cost. The Minister is fully aware of local authorities’ statutory duty to provide a range of services to their communities. In the absence of fair funding, should local authorities begin making plans for more austerity to fill the funding gap by cutting vital services such as libraries, waste collection or adult social care?

The answer to that question is unequivocally no, they should not. As I set out in my previous answer, we are working closely with the Treasury on a comprehensive settlement for the sector, which we will bring forward in due course.

The recent reports on disparity in the risk and outcomes of covid-19, published by Public Health England, confirmed that black and minority ethnic communities have been disproportionately affected by covid-19. What plans does the Minister have to ensure that areas that have been badly hit by covid-19, particularly those with large black and minority ethnic populations, receive the support necessary to recover from the social and economic effects of the outbreak?

The hon. Lady’s question is a good and important one. Obviously, that is something that the Government have published research on, and it is obviously a fast-evolving situation. We continue to work closely with councils that cover areas of high density of BAME population, including, for example, Bradford. We want to understand those pressures and as we do, then we will adjust our response accordingly.

Hounslow Borough Council has identified spending pressures of around £15 million and income losses of £95 million due to covid-19, and the funding gap is rising. Our local authority is heavily dependent on aviation and my constituency has the fourth largest amount of furloughed employment. How do the Government plan to support partnerships between councils, industry, training providers and community organisations to ensure that our economic recovery and our community recovery go hand in hand?

The hon. Lady asks an excellent question. Clearly, it is important that local authorities and business work together. We have so far allocated a total of more than £103 million to Hounslow Borough Council precisely to help ensure that we support the whole community. That includes a generous settlement of grants for businesses as well as additional funding worth more than £14 million for the council. It is vital that any authority with particular issues—for example, links to aviation—that is struggling to make the books balance speaks to the Department and we will of course always be happy to offer detailed advice.