The impact of the pandemic on local economies has been huge and councils have been integral to ensuring that essential local businesses have been able to continue functioning. As we start to reopen the economy, businesses that were forced to close have looked to us for guidance and support about how they can reopen safely.
The Government has taken on a new role by providing enormous financial support to businesses, employees and the self-employed through the pandemic. However, additional fiscal stimulus is going to be required that fully recognises the scale of the economic challenge. The recovery must address expectations of a more inclusive and greener future which, in itself, is a foundation for economic recovery. Councils must reconsider our role in stimulating the local economy, delivering vital infrastructure and coordinating our transport network.
Locally-led action will be key to ensuring that the economy recovers in a way that addresses the long-term inequalities we have seen across the country. Local economies are different and will need different things to stimulate them. Some require greater connectivity, some need to transition to new industries and others are short of affordable housing.
Understanding the exact nature of an effective and sustainable stimulus can only be carried out locally. In turn these decisions can only be taken by empowered local decision makers who know what resources they can expect for the long term, including from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and the flexibility to use them in a way that makes sense locally.
In the Budget which preceded the COVID-19 crisis, the Government announced a review of HM Treasury’s Green Book process, the way in which investment projects are evaluated and compared, mixing return on investment with other measures. The crisis has served to underpin that economic improvement across the country is a vital part of the nation’s wellbeing. Ministers must take the whole country with them.
The Government must recognise councils as empowered local decision makers. The only way to level up the economy is to let councils act. Central decision making will deliver the same results it has for decades, with unequal growth across the country.
If councils are empowered in this way, we can get local economies started again and deliver a pipeline of long-term investment that will revive the economy and deliver long term economic, social and environmental transformation. And we can do this at pace.
As councils we stand ready to deliver an ambitious programme of financial stimulus and have the knowledge and expertise to direct funds where they will be able to deliver immediate impact to protect jobs and livelihoods and support long-term transformation of the economy, infrastructure and services in every locality.
We need Government to set the national fiscal and policy framework which will support councils to deliver on this agenda.