Covid-8 A Sharp Warning
30 June, 2020
Last week saw the return of a full cycle of City Council Scrutiny Committee meetings for the first time since lockdown began. They were of course all virtual meetings, with agendas very much, as you would expect, concentrating on the city's response to the Coronavirus pandemic, and on the steps we are taking towards recovery. I was in attendance, to answer questions, at two of the six meetings, but the feedback on them all was that they went very well, and on that basis we will be having another round in July.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority held two meetings last week but wasn't quite so lucky with the technology. The first was a special meeting on the disastrous financial situation the member Councils are in, and the second the ordinary monthly meeting. I was one of a number of CA members that struggled to access the first meeting, not getting in until 30 minutes after it had started. Didn't miss anything though as it had to be abandoned, restarted and repeated after around an hour because of a transmission breakdown. As I've said before video conferencing is not the future.
Manchester's budget position got quite a lot of national and local media attention last week, not on the back of the special CA meeting, but from what our Treasurer said to Resources Scrutiny the day before. She reported a Covid-19 generated budget deficit of over £30m this year, rising to £160m next year, and told members that unless Government came up with substantially more money, we could be looking at a Section 114 notice in the Autumn, a statement that says we would be unable to meet our statutory responsibilities and deliver a legally balanced budget. We really are staring over the cliff edge, but so is pretty much every top tier Council in the country.
Financially stable local government is one prerequisite for driving recovery. Another is keeping the virus under control, and events this week in Leicester demonstrate our vulnerability to a second ( third, fourth ) spike. We are probably well past the point where the economic downturn will cause more premature death than the virus, but that is not a reason to act irresponsibly, something that we have seen far too many examples of over the last few weeks. I'm delighted that our hospitality businesses will be beginning to reopen over the next few days. But if we don't act in a way to keep ourselves and other people safe, they could soon be closed again.