Chancellor should ‘pay attention’ to Covid-19 report, claims council leader
Leeds City Council’s leadership has said a report into the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic should act as a wake-up call for Chancellor Rishi Sunak, ahead of his autumn spending review next week.
The damning report by two parliamentary committees into the handling of the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic claimed numerous mistakes by decision-makers may have led to thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Among its criticisms was a failure early on to recognise the risks to the social care sector and taking too long impose lockdowns.
In addition to these findings, it claimed that local authorities such as Leeds City Council were under-utilised, and that more should be done to involve them in future Covid surges.
Under a ‘lessons learned’ section of the report, it stated: “The UK must develop greater operational competence in deployment.
"In particular, the Government must ensure that both the new UK Health Security Agency and local authorities have the capability and funding to stand up both central surge capacity and locally-driven testing and contact tracing within seven days of a public health emergency being declared.
“The NHS, local authorities and the Government should ensure that health advice during the remainder of the pandemic and in any future emergencies should be available in a full range of languages, and that outreach programmes should reflect what is most effective in the cultural context of different communities.”
Leader of Leeds City Council James Lewis said: “Huge government cuts to council budgets since 2010 made it harder for councils to respond to the pandemic when it started last year.
“Ministers aren’t learning lessons and have continued to cut Leeds City Council’s spending power by a further £87m since then, with £126m more cuts coming in the next three years. The chancellor needs to pay close attention to the select committee’s report and provide proper funding for councils in his spending review later this month.”
It wasn’t all bad news for the Government, as the report went on to praise the rollout of the vaccinations, with Britain’s rates of adults with the jab are among the highest in the world.
But recent figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that an area of Leeds identified as “Harehills South” had one of the lowest vaccination uptake rates in the country, with less than one third of adults having had a second jab as of last week.
Coun Salma Arif (Lab), the council’s executive member for public health, said: “The Leeds approach continues to be comprehensive across the whole system, working with communities and informed by the full range of public health measures from vaccination, infection prevention control, communications, managing outbreaks and preventative activity, including encouraging safe practices and choices.
“We work very closely with our local communities to implement engagement plans responding to local insight. As part of this approach we have a comprehensive range of culturally diverse programmes including translated resources in a range of languages. We have worked tirelessly with our partners to tackle vaccine inequalities, for example enabling the delivery of over
12,000 vaccines at the Pop Up Vaccination site at the Bilal Centre in Harehills; along with almost 4,000 vaccines administered by the mobile vaccine buses across the city.
“We will continue to encourage and enable vaccine uptake but we need the government to back us up on this extremely important work in the battle against the virus.”
Richard Beecham , Local Democracy Reporting Service