Local Service Champions
Unison, the public sector union, calls them the UK’s “Local Service Champions”. The unsung heroes of the public sector, the thousands of council workers who provide the vital services that keep our communities running.
Local government workers have always been there for us. From cradle to grave, they are the glue that holds our communities together. We often don’t notice what council workers do, but they are there, making our lives better. And never more so than in this public health crisis.
They collect our rubbish and keep the streets and parks clean. They look after us in our homes when we’re vulnerable. They make sure we have a roof over our heads when the very idea of a home seems impossible. They help parents provide a positive environment for their kids. They support vulnerable children, including kids in need of care, by working with families, children’s homes and foster carers.
They are keeping schools open and feeding the children of keyworkers. They keep social care going, now a huge challenge because of social distancing and self-isolation requirements.
It’s our council public health teams who are at the forefront of keeping the spread of the virus under control.
Front line staff need back room support. Managers are redesigning services to meet the new demands with a faction of the resources they need. Ten years of austerity has left over-stretched and hollowed-out departments. This is now compounded with the need to keep staff safe, working from home where possible.
And coming up with new measures to help victims of domestic abuse. Economic abuse is a major component of abusive relationships. With incomes cut and lockdown in place, we’ve seen domestic abuse increase worldwide. Sadly, there is no reason to think that this pattern will be avoided here.
Kim McGuiness, our Police and Crime Commissioner, has set up a fund to help charities & community groups increase their capacity. You can find the link on www.northumbria-pcc.gov.uk.
Thousands are stepping up as volunteers. If you want to help, you can coordinate through your local authority. North Tyneside has the Covid-19 hub. Newcastle has the CItyLife Line. Northumberland has Northumberland Communities Together. If you want to volunteer, go to their websites. Volunteers are offering practical help – shopping for food, calling and listening to people who may be on their own, or providing transport.
Our three North of Tyne councils are also working flat-out to support businesses hit by the crisis. Many businesses are eligible for grants of between £10k and £25k.
As of 2nd April, Newcastle City Council have paid out over £15 million to help over 1,000 small businesses. In Northumberland, 2,500 businesses have applied to their Covid-19 Business Hub. North Tyneside Council is running similar schemes. See your Local Authority website for details. There’s a full rundown of available help on www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk.
My team are working in partnership to coordinate the regional economic response. This includes repurposing production – such as making hand sanitiser or ventilator components. We’re part of the new North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group. This is a partnership of the North of Tyne, NECA, the CBI, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and the trade unions.
It’s heartening to see the respect and gratitude being shown to the NHS staff. My wife is frontline GP. I’m all too aware that the scandalous shortage of personal protective equipment is putting staff at risk. Doctors and nurses are contracting the virus and dying because of this failure. I know for certain that the failure to make tests available has hampered the NHS.
The Thursday “clap for the NHS” and outpourings of solidarity have been very moving. This crisis is bringing out the best in many people. When I’m clapping, I’m doing it for all the keyworkers, in all sectors. They deserve our support.
They also deserve our support when this crisis is over. I will fight alongside them to ensure our public services are properly funded. Austerity has taken our public sector to breaking point and made us ill-prepared for this emergency. It must be discarded as the disgraced policy it is.
First published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 6. 4. 20