In the middle of March the country was plunged into a crisis the likes of which we have never seen before. Over the past 3 months there is no doubt that Covid-19 has presented some of the biggest challenges that many of us have faced in our lifetime and I know it has not been easy. We are a wonderfully diverse community and have seen people from different faiths coming together and supporting our most vulnerable people
I wanted to take the opportunity to set out the work undertaken by the council during this time, how we responded to the crisis and also start the conversation around how we rebuild Harrow.
Due to austerity we entered this crisis with our finances and a number of services already under massive pressure and still our staff rapidly responded to the COVID-19 crisis, doing everything we could, supported by the Government Ministers clear promises that “whatever funding is needed for councils to get through this and come out the other side”. We heard clear instruction that Councils should spend whatever it takes, with a firm commitment that we would be fully reimbursed by Government. A promise that they are trying to weasel out of now.
Within our budget in February we set out that since 2015 as demand for services in Harrow has rapidly risen our support grant from government has rapidly reduced – by £52 million ( 97%) – and the burden of cost for residents paying for council services has gone from 51% to 77%. Most of our other funding comes from retention of part of the business rates collected and fess & charges. We estimate that council spending has been reduced by over £128 million since 2010.
With the onset of the crisis we were required to stand up services that just didn’t exist previously and we have had to deliver many of our services in a totally different way. As a labour run council our No.1 priority has been to protect and support our most vulnerable residents during this difficult period.
We ensured that we got the homeless off of the streets and in to safe accommodation, and rapidly stepped up and created new services to support the vulnerable and those most in need whilst they are self-isolating. Staff working remotely with a struggling IT system, we introduced community hubs and the concept of shielding was new for this crisis. In Harrow, there are nearly 13,000 people who are on our shielded list, so having to make contact with them, with over 16000 outbound calls made, ensuring they received food parcels has been a challenge. We have ensured that our waste collections services are maintained, our streets kept clean, our parks kept open, hot meals delivered, food supplied, timely discharges from Hospitals, PPE supplied and so much more. .
The detail of how we responded has been published in two Cabinet reports, which are available at:-
Thursday 21st May 2020 – https://www2.harrow.gov.uk/documents/s165144/The%20Councils%20Response%20to%20COVID%2019.pdf
with the supporting documents available at:-
As you will note from the reports we are estimating that this crisis will mean additional expenditure of £14.157m and income loss of £40.663m – an estimated impact of £54.82m – although we have received £13.1m of emergency funding.
Moving forwards and recovery
It is clear that Adult Social Care is likely to be in emergency mode for sometime. Most other services are stable and as lockdown is reduced the council will start to move them back to “normality”. We are also assuming a major short term economic shock to businesses and residents and we are working on how we can best support residents and business through that.
We don’t want to return to normal, we want to return to better
We will be focusing our recovery around the priorities that we set out earlier this year in the draft Borough Plan 2030, which we are delighted our partners across health and care, the police, the voluntary sector, educational institutions and many others are supportive of.
There are three areas, which form the foundations for addressing our main priorities, where we seek to maintain the standard of current provision:
- Sustaining quality education and training
- Celebrating communities and cohesion
- Maintaining low crime levels and improving community safety
We have five priorities where there are significant challenges to deliver the desired outcomes:
- Improving the environment and addressing climate change
- Tackling poverty and inequality
- Building homes and infrastructure
- Addressing health and social care inequality
- Thriving economy
This is really important to us in ensuring that everyone is able to live healthy lives, achieving to the best of their ability whilst we protect and restore the environment: preserving the planet for future generations.
Over the summer we will be engaging with harrow residents and businesses to go through the plan and give more details as we develop the draft Borough Plan in to a council vision for 2030.
The borough plan can be downloaded at –
Funding will be a critical concern over the next few months and we are awaiting detail about the Governments budget plans and possible upcoming summer budget statements.
Without being properly funded for this crisis and as we rebuild through recovery we simply will not be able to deliver or maintain the quality services we will need going forwards, services that have been so cherished during the pandemic. Quite simply we will not be able to afford those services that our residents and businesses rely on as they look to rebuild their lives. We will be forced to make reductions in social care services, reducing support to those most vulnerable and in need, as well as job losses amongst our heroic care workers. We will not be able to keep our residents healthy and active, living in safe and pleasant communities.
We will keep campaigning to be properly funded and ensure Government plays its part and honour its financial commitments
It is clear that there is still a long road ahead before life returns to normal with unprecedented financial challenge, and the labour group at Harrow Council will continue to work with members, voluntary and community organisations and our residents and businesses as we start to rebuild a cohesive and stronger society in Harrow.
Please stay safe and take all necessary precautions to do so.
Cllr Graham Henson
Leader of Harrow Council