Over the last few years, Labour councils have shown time and time again that they’re innovative in the face of adversity, continuing to deliver services under austerity, dealing with natural disasters such as flooding, major terror attacks, and now the Covid-19 pandemic. This is all despite a decade of cuts and increasing pressures on services such as adult social care and children’s services. Our Labour councils have lost 60p in every £1 of funding, and we were told to do “whatever it takes” to tackle the crisis by the government – but we are still waiting for the required funding to materialise.
We have seen the very best from our communities and councils despite the challenging circumstances of the last 12 months. In March, councils, community leaders, groups and individuals across the country quickly stepped up to respond to the challenges of the pandemic and lockdown, not knowing how long this would last. Almost a year later, we are all still constantly readjusting the work that we do to respond to an ever-evolving situation, whether it be the introduction of the tier system, the November lockdown, the reintroduction of the tier system, the new “Tier 4”, a shocking lack of leadership over school reopenings in January or the lockdown that we now face.
True to form, Labour councils are continuing to innovate to serve their communities during the pandemic. At Christmas, Chesterfield Borough Council recognised that most children wouldn’t get an opportunity to meet Father Christmas as usual, so set up a virtual reality “Santa House” for local children to visit. Lambeth Council set up a digital inclusion fund to address digital exclusion and poverty in the borough, ensuring that everyone was able to get online.
Rotherham Council encouraged residents to get involved in the “Backyard Olympics”, holding different events each day online for residents to follow over the period in which the Olympic Games should have taken place. These are just a few examples of how Labour councils have been innovating during the pandemic – more can be found in the LGA Labour group’s upcoming publication ‘Communities versus Covid’.
In this publication, we also honour some of our ‘Covid heroes’ who have gone above and beyond to support their communities. Some are Labour councillors, such as Samantha Bellamy, who, using her expertise as a chef, has been cooking meals for vulnerable and shielding residents in Salford. Others are community organisations, such as the Witney Baby Bank, set up in the first lockdown to ensure that families are able to access important supplies for their baby, recognising the impact that loss of income was having on some local families.
Council officers are also included, such as Bradford Council’s Anjum Munir, who worked with the local Muslim community, staff and volunteers during the first lockdown to ensure that funerals were delivered sensitively and safely. Dr Ronx, a doctor at Homerton Hospital in my own borough of Hackney is a well-known doctor in the community, reading to children on the children’s ward and made a video for the community telling people how to wash their hands properly and how to follow social distancing guidelines.
It’s clear in my mind that, despite the challenges and adversity of the last year, Labour councils and our communities have truly shown the best of us. There will be more challenges to come as we move into the next phase of the pandemic, but I know that Labour councils will continue to deliver and innovate for their communities.