Covid-19 is the biggest economic and social challenge our urban areas have faced since World War II and they are rising to it. The virus is a national crisis that only local action can solve. Places and communities are part of the front line using their own knowledge and expertise to help each other and save lives.
Across both Core City UK and SIGOMA networks, from Portsmouth to Glasgow, Belfast to Barnsley our citizens are also doing their bit to help the nation in a time of unprecedented crisis. You can see some examples of these, everything from free school meal deliveries to business support, at www.corecities.com. Of course, the most important thing right now is to direct all efforts towards defeating the virus, staying home and protecting the NHS. However, over the coming weeks we will need to start to rebuild and we believe the power of place is key to national recovery.
Core Cities UK has already set out a national plan for this, Strengthening the Core, setting out a range of practical measures – for example giving places flexibility to redirect uncommitted ERDF funding towards local business support – that will make a real difference. Essential to the recovery will be partnership between our cities and towns to make sure no-one is left behind.
Both our organisations believe that a phased sectoral return plan, focused on key sectors like manufacturing and construction, is the best way to begin the journey back to growth.
But we must not forget that in the short term, Covid 19 represents a huge challenge to local authorities, resulting in both loss of income and extra spending. It comes after ten years of significant funding reductions which have cut our capacity and ability to respond to crises like this this one.
While we welcome the Government’s recent funding announcements for the sector, further austerity after the crisis has passed would be disastrous. We hope Government has got the message that cutting the local state is unsustainable and ultimately causes more problems than it solves. Our immediate ask is that council finances are protected so that none lose out from the response to Covid-19.
This crisis has shown what Local Government is about, embedded in place, flexible and responsive with the care of the vulnerable at the heart of everything it does. It is tempting to believe that a centrally planned, command and control solution, is the best way to achieve national recovery but it is not. You simply cannot direct local economic recovery initiatives from Whitehall and Westminster. This method of Government has been shown to have failed before the crisis and it will fail again afterwards.
What we must do is give local leaders and communities the powers they need to make a difference. For example, who is best placed to know the skills urban areas will need in a post Covid-world? It must be those people who are close to ground and who have the ears of local businesses and can properly assess the scale of the task. Freedoms must go hand in hand with investment, but a centrally planned recovery, with silos and agencies all duplicating their own work will waste time and money. What we need is a mature approach to co-ordinate services at the level of place and direct them as needed.
It is no good pretending recovery will be simple and easy. There will be no simple ‘V’ shape, our economies will recover, but it will be an uneven and slow process. Core Cities UK and SIGOMA know that going back to ‘business as usual’ is not an option. We led our places successfully through the last major economic trauma and resulting austerity, we will do so again.
Co-written by Leader of Leeds City Council, Cllr Judith Blake & Chair of Sigoma, Sir Stephen Houghton