Local government generally has been hard hit by Covid-19, with revenues down and much higher spending on pressing needs such as social care, including protective equipment and the homeless. This is why Redbridge Council is asking residents to support its plea to central Government for £45 million it says it is owed.

Covid-19 has highlighted how the present Government appears prejudiced against local government and instinctively prefers a centralised approach. The Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, said on 16 March that the Government “stands ready to do whatever is necessary to support councils in their response to the coronavirus”. The Government has since rowed back, speaking now of “sharing the costs”. It has attached onerous conditions to some of the aid it has given, making it difficult to spend the funds.

The 2012 restructuring of health services took public health functions away from the NHS to give them to local government. Local Directors of Public Health and their staff have expertise on infection control, tracking and tracing outbreaks. For Covid-19, central Government chose to create a highly centralised ‘track and trace’ service from scratch, instead of building on existing local services. Only very slowly and painfully has it made links with local infection control, including sharing essential information about those infected with Covid-19 and their contacts. All the indications are that locally based ‘track and trace’, using local knowledge, works better.

Difficulties for care homes, which are mainly financed by local government social services, in working with NHS hospitals have been widely reported during the Covid-19 outbreak. The risks of central Government assuming that it has all the answers to complex problems have been shown by the devastating infection rates in care homes, sometimes started by transfers of patients from NHS hospitals.

Centralisation seems to be the present Government’s instinctive response to any problem. Press reports suggest that No 10 plans to ‘rein in’ NHS England, taking away its independence. Part of the response to the economic damage from Covid-19 is to be to take planning controls away from local communities, ‘taking back control’ to Whitehall.

The Covid-19 crisis did so much to bring local communities together in support and solidarity. The realisation of how we need and can support each other in pursuit of shared goals should, surely, be a starting point for rebuilding after the crisis. How sad and ironic it would be, if the crisis is used to centralise power in our country still more.

Crispin Acton

Secretary, Redbridge Liberal Democrats