Dealing with the immediate impact of COVID-19 continues but this needs funding by central government to avoid later cuts to local services just when they are needed most.
37 otherwise homeless people in Cheltenham are being provided with food and accommodation. Some were rough sleeping but more would have become homeless as a result of COVID-19. Over £16m has been paid out to over 1300 Cheltenham businesses in small grants. Last week alone nearly 2500 vulnerable people were phoned or written to and 119 food parcels delivered by the Cheltenham Trust. This is in addition to the national scheme to help people being ‘shielded’.
But in many ways the big question is what happens next?
Reversing ‘lockdown’ will take time to avoid further peaks of the virus. As a council we are thinking about how best we can help long term. Work has continued on key projects so we are ready to invest in our local area including Cyber Central at West Cheltenham, High Street paving upgrade phase 2 and progressing sites for affordable housing. We are keen to help as many others as possible with their recovery plans and not least find homes for those that would be living on the streets.
There are two particular difficulties with this. The first is knowing what the government will do when. It is important they start explaining that to everyone and discussing details with those of us expected to help make it work locally. The second is finance. The extra work needed by the council now has created costs with no option to furlough staff.
But the largest impact is reduced income. One of the ironies of the huge reduction in central government funding for local government over the last 10 years is that councils across the country have looked for other income to fund services and those are now suffering across the board.
Overall in Cheltenham we are down over £1m per month compared with Council Tax income per year of £9m. The council can play a key role in the recovery but will need continuing government support.