Wales appreciates the Covid impact on the NHS. But do we understand its implications for our local authorities? Some councils face the possibility that they cannot fulfil their statutory responsibilities.

Gwynedd officers tell me of immense additional burdens, with public protection almost entirely redirected to Covid - particularly test and trace duties. Gwynedd leads on “surge testing” functions. This requires 150 staff to be trained and on standby for new variants – with clinical aspects causing understandable anxiety.

Administering Covid relief schemes – for business, rough-sleepers, hardship funds and other grant payments takes staff away from their normal work. The authority’s capacity is further reduced when staff self-isolate.

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Covid has impacted schools severely and this affects local authority budgets. It isn’t just in the classrooms; it’s hit school transport and increased the number of children 'at risk'. Pupils with additional needs have suffered disproportionately. All have cost implications for local authorities.

Staff work under enormous pressure. Pay levels compare poorly with many healthcare and private sector workers, leading to staff losses.

Boris Johnson trumpets higher wages. HGV drivers earn twice as much as council refuse lorry drivers - or even teachers; and three times as much as care assistants. Minimum pay of £12 an hour for council social care workers is essential for services to survive.

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Some teachers take early retirement rather than endure Covid-vulnerable classrooms. Home-helps get little job satisfaction rushing between clients without time to fulfil their tasks adequately. Administrators get depressed at constant public complaints. But if key workers resign, councils are still legally responsible for undertaking their work - even if they have no-one to do it.

Carmarthenshire recently reported shortfalls of 37 in-house homecare workers and 49 vacancies in private establishments.

Ellen ap Gwynn, Ceredigion Council leader, believes greater “respect” is needed for the essential duties undertaken by local authorities. Pay grade and funding reviews are required to compete in the labour market.

Llinos-Medi Huws, leader of Ynys Mon Council, has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, demanding greater resources. She rightly recognises that unless the Treasury acts, the Welsh Government won’t have the resources needed by councils to sustain services.

The Local Government Association has also pressed the chancellor. In 2020-21, the cost of Covid to local government in England was £12bn, including lost income and additional spending. The Exchequer funded two-thirds of this. Additional money for Wales, via the Barnett formula, was correspondingly inadequate.

This concern emerged at the recent “historic” first meeting between leaders of Wales’ 22 local authorities and the full cabinet led by Mark Drakeford. WLGA leaders told the meeting that council social services “are at breaking point”, arising from Covid pressures and social service delivery issues.

The glaring need is to link health and social services. This, and better council funding, are key to associated issues – including ambulance-stacking outside hospitals.

Health, education, social services and local government are devolved functions. Wales is empowered to legislate for them; and to raise taxes. The buck stops in Cardiff; and we must get a grip.

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