Lewisham’s cabinet member for finance first learned about the Government’s plans to use ‘Covid-secure marshals’ on the radio. 

The Prime Minister announced his plan to set up local teams of marshals to enforce Covid-19 rules, such as stopping large groups from gathering, at a press briefing on September 9.  

Councils are expected to hire the Covid marshals, but say they have been given little information and no funding to do so.  

Cllr Amanda DeRyk, Lewisham’s cabinet member for finance and resources, said she, along with most people, first heard the news through the media.  

She said: “I heard on the radio that Boris Johnson said local government will be hiring street marshals to patrol the streets.  

“And you’re like, hang on a minute, that’s the first we’ve heard. There’s this sort of policy of decision making by sensational announcement. I heard that on the Today Programme.  

“We all heard it on the Today Programme.” 

A Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government spokesperson did not comment on the funding or lack of warning.  

But she said: “Some areas of the country have already introduced marshals to support the public in following the guidelines in a friendly way and we will be working with councils to see where else they are needed.” 

Financial pressures 

Lewisham recently announced that it is planning to make extra cuts of £5.4 million this year in the wake of Covid-19. 

This will be added to the cuts of £16.6m agreed in February.  

The in-year cuts are not expected to affect essential services and will include not filling some vacant posts and clamping down on agency use.  

The council, which has started a financial review into the cost of the pandemic, also needs to make “at least” a further £40 million in cuts over the next three years, £24 million of which will be next year.  

Up until now, the pandemic has cost the council an estimated £60 million – £29 million in costs and £29.9 million in lost income – with a shortfall of £20 million that remains unfunded from the Government. 

Cllr DeRyk said one of her biggest fears in the wake of Covid-19 is “not having enough” to support residents.  

“My fear is always about having enough, preserving enough to support people in the way that we know they need supporting.  

“I don’t believe that central Government understands what it’s like to live in Lewisham.  

“We know we need to be able to respond, my biggest fear is that scale of resources that we need to respond, and I just don’t trust the Government to give us what we need.  

“We need the investment now. We need it for our residents, they don’t all live in Kensington and Chelsea. We need money from central Government to pay for the bigger impacts of Covid.  

“We’re going to be cutting our budget at the same time as there’s a national recession, plus Brexit. It’s really scary,” she said.  

To combat the shortfall in funding, the council will be “taking a different approach” by “looking at the council as a whole”.  

“What we’re trying to do is track back from what are residents need, we’re trying to have a very outcomes-based focus.  

“What do our communities need? What do our residents need? Where does the money need to go? 

“We’re trying to synchronise that with a recovery plan to make sure we’re building on the principles of fairness, that we’re delivering value for money in terms of what residents pay for, that we’re keeping our universal services like bin collections, that we can keep the parks open and to a high standard.  

“What Covid has shown is that the voluntary sector is vital, that our parks and open spaces are vital for wellbeing and health and for people’s sanity.  

“What’s easiest to cut are thing like parks and grants to the voluntary sector because they’re not statutory. 

“That’s why we have to take a whole-council approach, because if you were just cutting it by the numbers, you’d end up with perverse outcomes,” she said. 

Cllr DeRyk said the council needs to plan its finances prudently given the uncertainty around future funding. 

“We’ll always prioritise frontline services when they’re needed and we’ll put our reserves towards that. What becomes more difficult is the longer-term recovery. 

“Unlike the NHS, we can’t go into overdraft. There are still so many questions about next year’s funding for local government from central Government.  

“Where’s the comprehensive spending review, what’s the local settlement going to be? That’s why we have to plan for this scale because we don’t yet have any information that tells us that we don’t [have to],” she said.