Lancashire leaders angry letter to government over missing support money

Leaders from all 15 Lancashire councils have written to the Government demanding the funding promised to businesses before national lockdown and have also criticised the “unfair and divisive” levels of financial support between the north and south.

In a strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister’s interim chief of staff Sir Edward Lister, they also accuse the Government of a “breach of the agreement” when the county entered Tier 3 measures in mid-October.

Council bosses say that a deal worth £30m of additional support was reached to support businesses and the economy and was intended to cover a “28 day surge period” when all boroughs would be under the toughest lockdown restrictions.

Boris Johnson announced a second national lockdown starting on November 5 for four weeks until December 2, with the same level of financial support extended to all councils as a one-off grant.

Lancashire leaders argue that was “inherently unfair and divisive” and a breach of the original agreement last month as other parts of the country “predominantly in the south” would receive the same amount of funding for four weeks as Lancashire did for nearly seven weeks.

They are now calling for a further £20m from central government as a “reasonable additional sum” to cover the additional 19-day period.

Geoff Driver CBE, leader of Lancashire County Council, said they have not receive the support for the three-week period before the national lockdown and urged the Government to “pay us the money we are due”.

Some parts of Lancashire, including Blackburn with Darwen, have been under stricter lockdown restrictions since the end of July and Coun Driver said extra Government funding is “vital for businesses”.

Lancashire will learn on Thursday (November 26) which tier it will be placed into with all 14 districts facing the prospect of being put into blanket restrictions despite recording vastly varied Covid rates.

Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council

In a statement, Coun Driver said: “Before national lockdown we had long, detailed and constructive negotiations with government to agree a financial package for businesses affected as a result of Lancashire going into what was then tier three.

“This set the framework for the financial support being offered to other tier three areas and now the whole of England for going into national lockdown.

“However, we did not receive the support for the three-week period before the national lockdown when we were in tier three.

“I cannot stress enough how vital this funding is for businesses across the county which is why all of Lancashire’s 15 leaders have set aside political differences to make the case to government to provide us with this support.

“It is really disappointing that we haven’t had this, not least because Lancashire has been ready, willing and able to work with central government to support our people and businesses throughout this pandemic – and we remain so.

“I would urge government to pay us the money we are due.

“Looking forward, we don’t know yet what tier or tiers Lancashire will be in, but it is clear that some if not all of the county will be facing significant restrictions and our businesses will continue to require support.

“So we are not only asking the government to act in good faith in terms of the commitments given in the past, but also for the future as we work together to emerge from this crisis.”

The full letter to the Government signed by all 15 Lancashire council leaders:

We are writing as the 15 Local Authority leaders in Lancashire to set out our serious concerns about the government’s apparent disregard to the agreement you made with us (your letter of 16 October) and the ongoing harms this will cause the people and businesses of Lancashire.

In October, we entered into an agreement with government to move to local alert level three (LAL3), which imposed a range of restrictions on the people and businesses of Lancashire.

Part of that deal was the nature of those restrictions and funding of £30m, to be used to support businesses and the economy over the 28 day surge period.

It was agreed that this funding could be used over the course of the following 6 months, recognising the on-going nature of the impact after the 28 day period.

This was a robust negotiation initiated by Government to secure local agreement to the arrangements within LAL3, recognising that this was the most effective way to drive local compliance.

We agreed collectively those terms including the restrictions that would be put in place and the local compensations.

As you know from our prior correspondence setting out the structural barriers to suppressing the virus in Lancashire, we had significant reservations about the overall effectiveness of the measures in securing a sustainable position in Lancashire.

We were also clear that the compensations were nowhere near sufficient. However in the circumstances we accepted that LAL3 was inevitable and

secured the best outcome for Lancashire that we could to balance the ongoing harms to lives and livelihoods.

As you will be aware, that agreement started on 17 October with the closure of pubs and bars, followed by further business sector closures from 19 October.

Neither the monies nor the guidance supporting the details of the agreement were received in Lancashire in a timely fashion and our ability to support businesses was hampered by that and the lack of the promised funding.

On 5 November, the English national 4 week national lockdown commenced and all Local Authority areas were provided a payment of £20 per head of population, a sum equivalent to that offered to Lancashire under the individual deal we had agreed for LAL3.

We have been advised that Lancashire will receive no additional funds despite the fact that we are now essentially subject to 7 weeks of restrictions.

This is inherently unfair and divisive; it is likely that London and other areas, predominantly in the south, will receive the same compensation for 4 weeks of restrictions.

Furthermore, the funding that was originally intended to be used for business support over a 6 month period – now known as the

Additional Restrictions Grant – is both expected to provide business support for the period up to March 2022 (and not March 2021 as originally set out) and, arguably, is available to a wider scope of business sectors beyond what was considered under LAL3.

This is an unacceptable position for us and the people of Lancashire and a breach of the agreement we made with the Government through the negotiations.

This breach is compounded by the fact that none of the promised government support was delivered to us ahead of the national lockdown and indeed some, such as the agreement to give us support and flexibility on powers and enforcement, remain outstanding today.

We delivered what we said we would and in a cohesive and effective manner we implemented the local closures and restrictions, including effectively closing down our important hospitality sector.

We urge you to deliver your part of the agreement, and provide us with the appropriate funding for those additional 3 weeks. We consider £20m to be the reasonable additional sum to cover that 19 day period.

In considering this, we ask you to note that parts of Lancashire have faced restrictions of one kind or another for longer than any other part of the country.

For a county that already experiences significant structural inequalities and which will require considerable long term support to help us level up, this has been economically devastating; we are losing £328m every 28 days from our economy and we expect this to increase to £1bn in the run up to the Christmas period.

The funding we have received is simply insufficient. We are concerned not just about the £30m business support funding, but also about the funding provided to support self-isolation, otherwise known as the Test and Trace Support Payment.

Given prevailing rates of infection and test positivity, it was inevitable that the original allocations of funding would not be sufficient to meet the demands for this support.

As a result, a number of Local Authorities have already exhausted the original funding allocations and many others are nearing that position. To sustain a policy of supporting those who are required to self-isolate, whether they test positive or are a contact of someone who does, additional funding must be provided as quickly as possible.

To be clear, we know the need to feed and support their families is a key barrier to many individuals on low incomes and /or insecure employment to self-isolate and these payments are essential in many of our most disadvantaged households.

We can discuss with your officials the evidence to support the additional funding required to meet the need in Lancashire along with other issues, such as supporting those who self-isolate due to alerts from the NHS App, which are not currently within the scope of the Test and Trace Support Payment Scheme.

Indeed, recognising that the Test and Trace Support Payment System is an integral part of the Test, Trace and Isolate Strategy, the need to provide additional funding for this is fundamental as we explore with Cabinet Office the introduction of mass testing in Lancashire.

Appropriate support for those that self-isolate is a fundamental element to ensuring this is successful in disrupting transmission in Lancashire.

And finally, you acknowledged the challenging financial position that local authorities find themselves in as a consequence of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

In response to this, you stated that HM Treasury had given assurance that no local authority in Local Alert Level 3 will be put in a position where they are unable to balance their budget this year or set a legal budget for next year.

For most, if not all, Leaders this was a critical part of the agreement and fundamental to accepting the move into Tier 3.

Subsequent discussions with Officials at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government indicate this is matter being considered as part of their submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review and we would urge you to ensure this is delivered; it is inevitable that Covid-19 will continue to impact on Local Authority budgets and the Government must deliver on its original commitment to meet all the costs of Covid-19. Lancashire has experienced the worst of the pandemic.

We believe that, working with government, we can tackle this and get into the best position to emerge stronger.

However, this is dependent on local people and businesses recognising that locally and nationally they have been treated fairly and supported properly.

Lancashire local authorities have delivered on our side of the deal. We ask that you deliver on the trust placed in you by us and our residents and businesses and honour your promise of an equitable financial settlement for Lancashire.

County Councillor Geoff Driver CBE Leader of Lancashire County Council

Councillor Mohammed Khan Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council

Councillor Lynn Williams Leader of Blackpool Council

Councillor Mark Townsend Leader of Burnley Borough Council

Councillor Alistair Bradley Leader Chorley Council

Councillor Karen Buckley Leader Fylde Council

Councillor Miles Parkinson Leader Hyndburn Borough Council

Councillor Dr Erica Lewis Leader Lancaster City Council

Councillor Mohammed Iqbal Leader Pendle Borough Council

Councillor Matthew Brown Leader Preston City Council

Councillor Stephen Atkinson Leader Ribble Valley Borough Council

Councillor Alyson Barnes Leader Rossendale Borough Council

Councillor Paul Foster Leader South Ribble Borough Council

Councillor Ian Moran Leader West Lancashire Borough Council

Councillor David Henderson Leader Wyre Council

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