Luton MPs call on government to keep its promise to support councils in last-ditch effort to avoid local budget crisis
Luton’s two Labour MPs have today added fresh pressure on central government to save Luton Council from £22 million in cuts to services, after the coronavirus pandemic triggered an almost overnight loss in income for the council.
Ahead of a crucial few weeks for Luton Council, Sarah Owen and Rachel Hopkins have, in a joint letter today, called on Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick to accept the council’s request for £50 million emergency support after coronavirus threw London Luton Airport, one of the council’s main sources of income, into crisis. In March, Jenrick stated that the Government “would stand behind councils and give them the funding they need”, but has been accused more recently of rowing back on this pledge, as councils like Luton enter budget crises.
Luton Council is currently in the process of drawing up plans for cuts of £22 million to services in order to avoid bankruptcy, following a drop in passenger numbers at the airport to near zero. As the majority shareholder in London Luton Airport, the council would usually receive a £20 million annual dividend which has been used to partially offset the £130 million cut by central government over the last ten years, supporting local services, as well as a further c£9 million in donations to support the town’s charity and voluntary sector.
Luton’s has been hit particularly hard by the covid-19 lockdown. A recent Centre for Cities report identified Luton as the second-most local economy vulnerable to coronavirus, due to the size of the aviation sector and motor industry in the area.
Luton’s Labour MPs have also voiced their deep concerns about what a lack of action from the government will mean for Luton’s public services. Luton Council had budgeted £250 million in 2020/21 for everyday services, including social care and the impact of even more cuts to social care will generate worry across Luton, after weeks of people in Luton applauding health and social care workers on their doorsteps.
Owen and Hopkins have pledged to do all they can with the short period of time left to avoid these cuts. They hope to convince the government to listen and keep their pledge to councils and take action to prevent even more cuts to the services people in Luton rely on.
Labour MP for Luton North Sarah Owen commented:
“After ten years of deep cuts to our public services in Luton, people in our town can’t afford any more.”
“Coronavirus has put our town, even more than in other parts of the country, in an incredibly difficult position. The government promised us that they would stand with local councils and do whatever it takes to keep things going through this pandemic. Now we’re asking them to deliver. People in Luton have suffered a great deal throughout this crisis and now more than ever, the council should be spared from more Government cuts.”
“Despite the need for some incredibly difficult financial decisions over the last decade, Luton Council has worked hard to make the most out of its income from Luton Airport in the face of a barrage of cuts handed down from central government. However, the current pandemic has seen passenger numbers plummet and has left the council in an unprecedented budget emergency. The Government must step up to the challenge of funding vital services for local people.”
Luton South’s Rachel Hopkins MP added:
“A decade of austerity has stripped £138 million from Luton Council’s budget and damaged local public services. Without emergency funding to address the income shortfall caused by covid-19, additional cuts will have a devastating impact on local peoples’ living standards.”
“The government should not be penalising Luton Council for protecting vital public services by relying on income from its ownership of London-Luton Airport. Cutting central government funding gave the council no other choice. Well-meaning language and insufficient policy announcements are not enough to protect local people, the government must provide the council emergency funding. Covid-19 has already inflicted far too much suffering on the people of Luton, further cuts to their services cannot be allowed to prolong the burden.”
“By providing Luton Council with emergency funding, the government can safeguard jobs, services and the future prosperity of our town. The government must protect the future of local people.”