A Thurrock Council report has revealed that the cost of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent lockdown cost the authority £2.2 million in the first quarter of this year. It’s estimated this could rise to £15 million by the end of the year. There’s now a freeze on all ‘non-essential’ spending and the council will be looking at what cuts will have to be made next year.

In response to this, the councillor for Grays Riverside, Martin Kerin (Lab) has called for the planned extension to Thurrock Council’s civic offices in New Road, Grays, to be included in the freeze: Call for Thurrock Council to delay civic offices project as cost of Covid begins to bite. When it comes to finances, the council already have serious issues to deal regarding completion delays and overspends on the botched re-development of Stanford-le-Hope railway station and the A13 widening between the Orsett Cock and the junction with the Manorway. Doubts have been expressed about the ability of the council to keep the expansion of the civic offices within the proposed £10 million budget.

The call to ‘freeze’ the planned extension of the civic offices is one we can sort of support and would be popular with many residents who like us, see this as nothing more than a vanity project. While this is a good call, it has to be pointed out that for the businesses ran by people of migrant origin where New Road goes round the corner, into the lower part of the High Street, it’s already too late for them. They’ve had to shut up shop and either fold or try to find new premises to operate from, leaving behind an empty building awaiting demolition. While freezing or even halting the planned extension of the civic offices could be seen as a victory, it would be a very hollow one.

What the council report indicates is a hint of what’s to come. Namely, another round of austerity. The cost of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent lockdown is being blamed but council mismanagement of infrastructure projects such as the A13 widening is also a contributory factor to the pressure to make cuts. This is before what many think will be another economic depression resulting from lockdown. Another financial crash cannot be ruled out, with a possible trigger being a crisis in the commercial property sector.

Looking towards 2021, we’re looking at a clusterf**k. The cost of which will be born by us mere plebs as a second, more destructive wave of austerity bites. This is when the concepts of grassroots mutual aid and solidarity that we’ve often talked about really will have to roll into action.