Council funding is a step in the right direction, says council leader after recovering from suspected coronavirus

The Leader of Merton Council has welcomed the announcement of an additional £1.6billion to help councils in the fight against coronavirus, after himself recovering from a suspected case of coronavirus.

However, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, who is recuperating after spending two weeks in isolation with a range of symptoms, says it will only help to plug short-term gaps, and has written to Government seeking assurance over further financial support for local services.

The Department for Communities this week announced a £1.6billion funding boost to local authorities to help ease the additional costs councils are incurring to deliver urgent care to thousands of residents.

However, the funding is there to address current costs and cover those spent to date – and Cllr Alambritis warned that there must be a longer-term solution to supporting councils as they continue to stretch budgets to provide unprecedented amounts of frontline care.

The Merton allocation from the Government grant is some £5 million. However, the combined impact of lost revenues across the borough, as well as the investment into establishing services to support thousands of the most vulnerable people in the borough, is already estimated at some £25 million.

“Let me be clear – this is a very welcome announcement and one all councils will be grateful for.” said Cllr Alambritis.

“Like every authority, Merton has had to divert huge funds towards the frontline fight against coronavirus, not least to provide emergency support and care to around 5,000 at-risk people across the borough.

“Like many councils, we have established a seven-day-a-week shielding service, supported the establishment of a number of food distribution centres and launched a range of new ways to get fast help and support for residents and businesses, all of which have needed to be resourced.

“The biggest issue for us regarding this funding is that we are in a situation which currently has no definitive end date.

“So while this funding is welcome to help us alleviate our current pressures and the additional money spent to date, the pressure on budgets will go on for at least as long as the pandemic does – most likely longer, as we support local economic recovery.”

Speaking on his recovery, he added: “Like many others, I’ve myself been stuck at home for the past few weeks, sidelined with a full house of symptoms – so I appreciate just how serious and debilitating the virus can be.

“I was very fortunate that I did not have to go to hospital, and was able to keep on top of things, but I can’t remember feeling that ill for many years, so it was a great comfort to know that there are so many caring public services staff out there helping people.”