Councils’ economic confidence plummets but faith in community hits all-time high

Embargoed until 28 May, 00.01. Report will be available here after this time.

  • Over three-quarters (78%) of council chiefs call for more funding to help deal with COVID-19, with almost half (43%) requesting more PPE
  • Confidence in the economy dropped significantly, with optimism in local business environment falling by over a third since the last quarter
  • Community cohesion and trust have never been higher, exceeding 70/100 for the first time in the Index’s history
  • Over 95% of respondents said the contribution of community groups to their COVID-19 response has been very significant or significant

New Local Government Network’s (NLGN) Leadership Index has found economic confidence at its lowest levels since the survey began, as over three-quarters of council heads call for more funding to deal with the impact of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, those leading councils say local cohesion and trust has never been higher, with over 95% of respondents calling the contribution of community groups to their pandemic response ‘very significant’ or ‘significant’.

The Leadership Index is a quarterly survey of council leaders, chief executives and mayors. It seeks to measure the mood of local government, by asking recurring and topical questions of every type of council, from across the UK.

This quarter’s Index showed the stark impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local government’s economic confidence. Respondents’ faith in the local business environment fell by over a third since the last quarter, while belief in having adequate powers and resources to boost economic development dropped by 5%.

Meanwhile, council heads praised community efforts in tackling the pandemic. 95% of council heads said the impact of community groups has been ‘significant’ or ‘very significant’. Many local authorities have worked closely with Mutual Aid groups and others to deal with the effects of Covid-19. Local volunteers have helped with tasks such as distributing food and medicine, volunteering in health and social care services, building shielding hubs, and more.

Respondents felt their areas were more united and more trusting than at any point since our survey began in April 2018. They scored ‘trust between local people’ at 71/100, and ‘local community cohesion’ at 72/100.

Local government is on the frontline of the response to COVID-19, and the survey shows the range of ways in which they have responded, including providing business support, setting up community support hubs and redeploying staff to meet urgent needs.

Alongside more funding to deal with the outbreak (78%), council heads called for more PPE (43%) and better data sharing (33%) from national government. Some asked the government to improve its overall approach to collaborating with councils.

One respondent wrote:

“End the top down creation of bright shiny schemes [like] national volunteering, shielding, Nightingale hospitals, new supply chains for PPE, etc, and genuinely work with councils and combined authorities and other partners to create locally-led solutions to community support and delivery.”

Adam Lent, Director of the New Local Government Network, says:

“The survey tells a story of the resourcefulness of local government, but also of the crushing economic impact of COVID-19, and their depleted ability to deal with this blow. It is interesting to note that this survey was conducted before the government rowed back on its promise to fully reimburse local government for its pandemic-related expense. This will have further dented councils’ optimism, not to mention their basic chance of financial survival.

“Amid this gloom, it is amazing to see indications of greater community trust and cohesion, as people and council key workers band together to face the crisis. This survey is a striking endorsement of community power. Those who lead councils almost universally praise the involvement of community groups in tackling COVID-19, even as they criticise the uncollaborative stance of Westminster.”

“We hope that these partnerships and spirit of collaboration between communities and councils will continue to flourish long after the pandemic is over.”

Notes to editors

Leadership Index

  1. The full report can be downloaded here after 00.01 on 28 May: www.nlgn.org.uk/public/2020/leadershipindex9/
  2. For further information, please contact Katy Oglethorpe, Head of Communications at NLGN, on 07912161536 or at katy@newlocal.org.uk
  3. The NLGN Leadership Index is a quarterly survey of council leaders, chief executives and mayors of local authorities across the UK first published in March 2018. It asks about their level of confidence in delivering key services, alongside a topical set of questions. This quarter these topical questions focused on COVID-19.
  4. The NLGN Leadership Index survey was sent to 615 leaders, chief executives and council mayors across all UK regions. It was open from 9 to 21 April 2020. This latest survey received a total of 94 responses, which equates to a 15.3 per cent response rate. Survey responses were received from all UK regions except Northern Ireland.
  5. COVID-19 and local government

  6. The government has provided local government with an additional £3.2 billion to help ease the cost pressures relating to councils’ COVID-19 response. But the LGA has warned that this is far from sufficient, with councils expected to need between £10 billion and £13 billion overall.
  7. Having initially encouraged councils to do “whatever it takes” to respond to the crisis in their local areas, the government appears to have reneged on its pledge of full support to councils, failing to clarify, for example, whether money already spent on PPE and ‘shielding’ services to the most vulnerable would be reimbursed.

  9. Councils are estimated to face a £9 billion shortfall due to the costs of tackling the pandemic, combined with losses to normal revenue from things such as business taxes, tourism and car parking charges.

  10. Join our mailing list