In April, Spotlight surveyed councillors across England, asking them about their local authority’s response to the coronavirus crisis. We received over three hundred responses which showed councillors’ views on the government’s handling of the pandemic were split heavily along party lines (see the results below). While Labour councillors showed some enthusiasm for the fiscal measures announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, in all other areas they deemed the government’s response inadequate. By contrast, their Conservative counterparts were generally satisfied with Whitehall’s handling of the crisis.
Overall forty-four per cent said they thought local government was being adequately supported through the crisis, although people’s answers were clearly affected by party loyalties. The same percentage said they trusted the government’s pledge to reimburse councils for their Covid-19 spending, although this number fell to just 7 per cent for Labour councillors. A full 72 per cent described the Treasury’s fiscal response as good or very good, including half of Labour respondents. One Labour councillor said there was “a distinct lack of coordination locally between groups supporting vulnerable people, which means there is needless duplication and worse – people that need help are being missed.” Another Conservative respondent said, “We should have been more aware of the benefits of testing and tracing.”
Since the survey was taken, several councils have announced they are on the edge of bankruptcy, and initial promises from the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick that local authorities would be reimbursed for their Covid-19 spending and losses seem to have been broken. Over the coming months, as councils struggle to balance the books and edge their way out of strict social distancing measures, their relationships with Whitehall will rapidly deteriorate unless a new settlement for local government is reached.
On lockdown measures
On the fiscal response
On government communication
On provision of equipment
On trust in government