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7th May 2020

A message from Solace President, Martin Swales

I have always felt incredibly honoured to represent the Solace membership but in recent weeks the sense of pride that I feel as Solace President has grown even further.

This continues to be an extremely difficult time, both professionally and personally, for everyone working in local government and for all other arms of the public sector.

There is no doubt in my mind that local government, at all levels, is rising to the challenge of this national emergency. From care workers to waste and recycling collectors, our workforces and Elected Members are going above and beyond to continue delivering vital services for the communities they serve, in circumstances that make it much harder to support our citizens.

I am very aware that there are many outstanding examples of compassion, innovation, and resilience being seen in Councils across the UK.  I also know that I am not alone in seeing the incredible performance of the sector – many senior Civil Servants that I have spoken to in recent weeks have been highly complimentary about the role of local government on the frontline of this crisis.

For many weeks now, together with regional Chief Executive colleagues and the LGA, we have been working intensively with Ministers and Civil Servants across Government departments, including MHCLG, 10 Downing Street, Treasury, Cabinet Office, DHSC, DfE, BEIS, and others.  In all of our discussions, we are making the case for Councils to have the right tools and resources to do our job and striving to ensure that Government announcements are aligned to local needs.

The recent announcement of an additional £1.6bn funding for local government was both welcome and essential in order to ensure Councils continue our vital work and followed strong representation from the sector. The same strength of representation from Solace, the LGA, and other sector bodies such as the County Councils’ and District Networks, with their respective membership, are continuing to press Ministers and government officials on the most central coronavirus issues for the sector. Our considerations have now also turned to the pivotal role of local government in recovery leadership to restore and repair the impacts on our social, environmental, and economic fabric. To do this we will not only need ongoing crisis funding support but also a truly sustainable revenue funding plan over the short, medium, and long term. The underpinnings of our recovery must also be supported by structural economic funding of a scale never seen before, with local government leading this agenda at place-based level. Solace Policy Board made these points in a letter to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and MHCLG Secretary of State Robert Jenrick last week.

Last year we worked hard towards uniting behind a single vision for the future of local government and the foundations we laid then, I hope, demonstrate constructive cross-governmental joint endeavour in a spirit of collaboration to ensure the voice of local government is clearly heard. It is more important than ever that there is continued recognition of the crucial role of local government.

What is rapidly becoming clear is that if we are to build the new resilient communities and economies we need and see beyond initial recovery in the ‘new normal’ there must be a fundamental reset of the role, powers, and financial sustainability of local government.

Martin Swales is President of Solace UK, Chief Executive of South Tyneside MBC, and is one of the nine regional chief executives liaising with the Government on the sector’s response to the coronavirus pandemic