Councils after Covid: why our local services need a fair deal now more than ever
It’s difficult to believe as it now feels like a lifetime ago, but this time last month we were debating the Scottish Government’s budget proposals. A decade of austerity and huge pressures on providing social care, rolling out new childcare services and meeting the changing needs of our communities. But in the last fortnight the Coronavirus pandemic has delivered an unprecedented challenge, requiring our councils to respond on the ground and reshape all their services without the certainty of knowing which bills the Scottish Government will pick up.
In an online meeting with Labour leaders across Scotland, their experiences and the pressure they are all under was clear. The scale of the challenge includes the impact of staff having to self-isolate, while services are reorganised in ways that would have been unimaginable a month ago.
Other obstacles include having to provide new services to help find safe care support to enable people who would otherwise still be stuck in hospital, and to house and support homeless people. These challenges were previously in the ‘too difficult’ category, but have now had to be addressed urgently.
The pressure on front line local authority staff is tremendous, whether it is managing and shifting resources to make large-scale changes happen fast to support people in our communities, and to work with the third sector to make sure people get access to food and the support they need locally.
Local authority Trade Unions have rightly flagged the need for consistent support for staff such as access to testing and PPE. This is something Scottish Labour has been demanding for all social work and care staff since the start of the pandemic, along with action to ensure that the safety of all local authority staff is delivered, such as social distancing measures at work.
It is vital that the Scottish Government commits to underwrite the additional costs that local authorities incur to keep our communities safe and resilient, and so that they come through this crisis able to adjust and help us transition to the recovery we will need in the coming months.