Experts reveal central government urgently needs to offer Luton Council more funding to handle coronavirus pandemic
Experts have warned MPs that central government is not providing adequate funding to the care sector or local councils like Luton to handle the current coronavirus pandemic and prepare for a potential second wave.
This comes as Luton Council faces a £49 million loss of revenue due to a coronavirus-related drop in passenger numbers at Luton Airport, which would usually contribute a £20 million annual pay out to the council. This pay out has meant that Luton’s Labour administration has been able to partially off set the £130 million in cuts handed down from Westminster over the last 10 years, protecting a wide range of essential services that residents in the town depend on as well as council grants to the voluntary and charity sector.
When questioned by Luton North MP Sarah Owen about coronavirus and the impact on Luton Council’s finances, Professor Martin Green, the Chief Executive of Care England, a leading figure in the sector, told Parliament’s Health and Social Care Select Committee that he did not believe that “local authorities and the care sector have the funding they need to cope with the immediate pandemic, a possible second wave and the shortage of carers”.
By law, local council budgets must be balanced and one of the council’s biggest expenses is social care for the elderly and most vulnerable. Without new financial support from government, social care providers may be at risk of collapse, leaving massive uncertainty for vulnerable people.
Luton’s Labour administration has asked government for £50 million in emergency revenue support, after having been identified in a recent Centre for Cities report as the second-most vulnerable local economy to coronavirus, due to the size of the aviation and motor sectors in the area.
In March, the Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick promised to give “whatever funding is needed for councils to get through this and come out the other side”. However, Jenrick recently rowed back on those plans, warning MPs that councils should not “labour under a false impression” that all costs would be reimbursed.
Luton North MP Sarah Owen will continue to work with Labour colleagues to hold the government to their earlier pledge to give the town what it needs to protect Luton’s essential services.
Commenting on the revelations from the Chief Executive of Care UK, Luton North MP Sarah Owen commented:
“We’ve endured cuts from Conservative governments for years but now the pandemic has put our town in an unprecedented situation – the income we usually rely on from the airport to sustain vital services like care, is no longer there.”
“The council must either get the necessary funds from central government, or be forced to implement devastating cuts to essential services including support and care for vulnerable people and the elderly. The government promised people that they would do whatever it takes to help local services through this crisis, so it needs to live up to that promise to people in Luton.
Every week during this pandemic, people have been on doorsteps and at windows applauding the social care staff who look after our loved ones in the most difficult of circumstances.
“For the government to sit back and allow this crisis to unfold in Luton and other towns like ours would be catastrophic for social care, disastrous for those who lose support as providers are forced out of business, and would once again fail the very people putting their lives on the line to get us through this crisis.
“I’ll do everything I can to hold the government to its promise and fight for the emergency funding that our town needs. The government must change course now.”
- Read full transcript of exchange at the meeting of the Health and Social Care Select Committee: https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/407/html/#q480