Sefton Central MP: Emergency coronavirus funding for borough “disgraceful”

5th November 2020

Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson has branded as “disgraceful” the failure of the government to properly take into account the number of residents in high-risk older age groups when calculating emergency coronavirus funding.

Sefton was given just £3.54m in the latest round of government funding for councils, the lowest of the six Liverpool City Region boroughs, despite Sefton having the highest proportion of elderly residents.

The other five boroughs, Liverpool, Wirral, Knowsley, St Helens and Halton, all received more funds despite Sefton having the third largest population overall. Costs to Sefton Council from extra services it has had to provide and income it has lost due to the pandemic is predicted to amount to £43m.

The council has previously received emergency funding of £20.1m, leaving a shortfall of around £20m in costs that the council has incurred that is not yet being covered by any government bailout.

Mr Esterson tabled a Parliamentary Question on the issue, asking the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to “publish the criteria used for the latest allocation of covid-19 funding to councils in the Liverpool City Region”.

The Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, Luke Hall, answered: “As with the previous funding COVID-19 local authority funding package announced in July, we have used the new COVID-19 Relative Needs Formula, together with an area cost adjustment, to determine funding allocations to councils in England. This means the distribution accounts for population and deprivation, as well as the varying cost of delivering services across the country. Finally, we have taken account of the funding local authorities have already received relative to their assessed needs and applied a minimum funding floor of £100,000 to each local authority – recognising that all local areas are facing pressures especially as we head into winter. This approach ensures the funds are distributed in a way that balances the need to support all areas of our country, whilst maximising efficiency and targeting resources where they are most needed.

“With national restrictions replacing local ones on Thursday 5 November, Government has confirmed further support for local authorities through the extension of the Contain Outbreak Management Fund, the Additional Restrictions Grant, Business Grants for closed businesses, together with backdated cash grants for businesses in Local Alert Level 2 and 3 areas and additional funding for the clinically extremely vulnerable.”

The relative needs formula favours area with high levels of deprivation, but Mr Esterson said with its high number of elderly residents, who are most at risk of complications, hospitalisation and death from coronavirus, Sefton is in a unique position.

Mr Esterson said: “It is nothing less than disgraceful that a borough with such high numbers of over 65s could receive such a inadequate sum from the government to cover extra costs from coronavirus. Of course where there is a more elderly population costs will be high. These are the very people whose health is most impacted by coronavirus. The government promised that no local authority would lose out due to the pandemic. Well we are about £20m short in Sefton so the next round of funding should reflect that.”

In the latest round of emergency funding, Knowsley borough has received £5.3m, Wirral £5.4m and Liverpool £19m.

Mr Esterson said: “Sefton has an older population than many boroughs so our needs in this crisis are higher, not lower.

“Sefton Council is not getting what it needs. The coronavirus pandemic has cost the council more than £40m and the government has given them just over £20m. The figures don’t add up and this latest round of funding is just nowhere near enough.

“Comparing what Sefton has been given to other authorities within the city region, we have not done well. We were awarded the lowest sum within the area despite been the third largest borough and having one of the highest numbers of people aged 65 in the country.

“Not helping an area with such high numbers of people who are most at risk is disgraceful. It is very disappointing.

“This is the fourth tranche of emergency funding that Sefton has received. The combined total is still £20 million short. Only two of the payments have reflected the significant impact of having an older population. This latest payment completely misses the point that older people face far higher risks and incur far higher costs for public services as a result of the coronavirus.”