Local government bodies have welcomed the announcement that councils in England are to receive an extra £1.6bn to support them during coronavirus.
The funds announced by the local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, at the daily briefing on Saturday, will increase the total councils have received to help them cope with the pandemic to £3.2bn.
An extra £300m will go to devolved administrations, with Scotland getting £155m, Wales £95m, and Northern Ireland £50m.
Jenrick praised council workers as the “unsung heroes” of the pandemic. “Every part of the government, from Whitehall to local town halls, are working together in this national effort,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to ensure that councils have the resources to keep up this work.”
Councils have lost significant income as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, with regular sources of revenue including leisure, parking, and buses dropping dramatically.
The County Councils Network, which represents 36 county authorities, called the development “very positive”, but added that the situation needed to be kept under review to ensure that councils received adequate support.
The network said that the initial £1.6bn funding, given in March, had been “swallowed up” by social care providers to pay for extra staff and personal protective equipment (PPE). It also highlighted the higher costs incurred by helping patients leave hospitals more quickly, securing accommodation for the homeless, and shielding vulnerable residents.
“The County Councils Network was clear in discussions with the government that no local authority should run out of money due to their efforts tackling the virus. We do not know how long the outbreak will last for, so the financial situation for councils must be kept under review, alongside a commitment to underwrite lost income from council tax,” chairman David Williams said.
“Coronavirus poses both short and long term challenges for our places. It is clear that councils will have a huge role to play in helping our communities and businesses back onto their feet, but we will need to be adequately resourced to do so,” he added.
The Local Government Association also welcomed the move, saying that alongside previous financial support, it will give councils “breathing space”.
“We are pleased the government continues to recognise the huge efforts councils and our staff are making and has responded quickly to our deep concerns about the financial strains being placed on them by providing more desperately needed new funding,” said association chairman James Jamieson.
“The pressures facing councils are significant, wide-ranging and vary from place to place and this funding will need to reach all councils. It is good that councils will be able to decide locally how best to spend it on the specific pressures they face in their local area,” he said.
The organisation had previously written to the local government secretary to demand “radical action” to protect councils, warning that the drop in income could force councils to “ration” their spending.
The letter said that unless more funding was received, the pandemic would harm “both the long-term continuity of existing services and the Covid-19 response at a time when both are so vitally needed, something we all wish to avoid”.