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Camden needs more government money in this crisis

22 May, 2020

• I AM impressed by the response of Camden’s staff to the coronavirus crisis.

They have worked tirelessly to try to ameliorate the suffering of people, especially the vulnerable.

Behind their efforts has been a strategic initiative that has probably not been seen in Camden since the Second World War.

Led by Cllr Georgia Gould, the range of activities have been really impressive:

• To try to ensure that no one in need goes hungry, the council has offered a food parcel scheme for all those entitled to free school meals. Over 1,000 food parcels a week are being distributed.

• Anyone unable to pay their rent to the council has been offered help. There is a promise that no tenant will be evicted from council homes if there is clear evidence that they have been unable to pay rent as a direct result of the crisis.

• Camden already provided 640 beds for people who are homeless; this effort has been stepped up to help the most vulnerable.

• There has been additional spending to support people leaving hospital and those needing mental health care.

• Voluntary sector tenants have had their rent waived at a cost of almost £500,000.

• The council has offered relief on business rates for a range of businesses in Camden, with additional grants to some 2,500 businesses.

These are just a sample of the initiatives that Camden is taking to deal with the crisis.

The problem is that the government is failing to meet its responsibilities – or its promises.

On April 18 Robert Jenrick, as the housing and communities secretary, wrote to all who work in local government: “All across local government people are going the extra mile for their communities. It’s truly humbling.

“You are doing all of this and more and we thank you.

“My role as local government secretary is to make sure you have everything you need to carry out this vital work.

“I have already made available £1.6billion of additional funding to councils and today I am confirming another £1.6billion will be provided to councils to help to deal with the new responsibilities we have asked of you.

“I said that I would ensure you had the resources you needed to do the job, and I meant it. I promised that I would champion your cause and fight your corner as we work together, and I meant it.”

This sounded like a generous settlement, meeting the costs that the minister was expecting local government would face. But it is nowhere near enough.

It should not be forgotten that we have had years of Conservative government cuts. Over the past eight years where the council had lost an unprecedented £169million.

The workforce has been cut by 23 per cent, nearly a quarter of our key staff. That is the background.

While Mr Jenrick promised Camden we would have “the resources you needed to do the job” this is simply not the case.

The extra spending that has been allocated to Camden amounts to less than £20million (£19.593million to be precise). Over the next nine months our council will spend over £80million.

In other words, the government will provide just one pound in every four that Camden spends to meet the desperate needs of our people hit by the virus.

Mr Jenrick, this is not just a broken promise, it is a scandal.

But we cannot leave the most vulnerable in our community in the lurch. In the hour of their need we have to stand with them.

All we ask is that the government does the same.



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