An editorial published by The Guardian on Monday 11 May commenting on the government’s support for English councils ignores the significant measures put in place to help them respond to coronavirus – and the fact councils' core spending power rose by over £2.9 billion this financial year even before additional emergency funding was announced.
Council workers are the unsung heroes as we tackle this pandemic and we’re providing councils with over £3.2 billion in the fairest way possible to help them tackle the immediate pressures they have told us they’re facing, including the essential work which has seen over 5,400 rough sleepers supported to get off the streets. In addition, £3.2 million of emergency rough sleeping funding for councils to prevent the spread of coronavirus was announced in March and, in April, councils also received £318 million of non-Covid-19 homelessness and rough sleeping funding as we continue to support the most vulnerable into sustainable accommodation.
To help ease their immediate cash flow pressures, we have announced councils will be allowed to defer £2.6 billion in business rates payments to central government and that they will be paid £850 million in social care grants up front in April.
We have also created a £500 million hardship fund to enable councils to give further reductions in council tax to vulnerable households.
Funding of up to £167 million will be paid to bus operators and councils over 12 weeks under the Covid-19 Bus Services Support Grant to maintain services and allow social distancing on board. This is in addition to existing bus grant payments. Alongside this, up to £30 million has been made available to keep trams and metro trains operating, allowing essential local routes to remain open during the pandemic.
As well as supporting vital council services, the government is enabling councils to support economically vulnerable businesses and high streets. We are providing this support through the Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF) and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund (RHLGF) and local government plays a vital role in helping us to deliver these. As of 3 May, £8.6 billion has been paid out in grants to over 695,000 business premises across the country.
As part of our support for businesses, the government announced we will make available up to £6.1 million of support to Business Improvement Districts’ (BIDs) core operational costs for the equivalent of three months. Councils will receive un-ringfenced section 31 grant funding, which we will ask them to disseminate to BIDs in their area. We are currently getting in touch with councils to collect information that will allow us to determine the level of funding for each area.
At the outset of the emergency we said we would give the councils the resources they need to respond to this unprecedented crisis and we will continue to work with councils as they support their communities during the pandemic.