Chronic underfunding leaves local councils on ‘life support’

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Nearly 10% of England’s councils have admitted that they are planning reductions in adult social care activities due to budget constraints.

The worrying statistic was revealed in the 2019 State of Local Government Finance Survey, published by local democracy think tank LGiU and The Municipal Journal.

The survey was sent to senior decision makers at England’s 353 councils, of which 123 responded.

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It found that 35 of these councils are planning to reduce activities in adult social care due to financial pressures.

Children’s services and education were the top immediate financial pressures, for the second year running, ahead of adult social care.

However, adult social care is still under severe strain, being named as the top long-term financial pressure.

Eight in 10 councils responding to the survey said they are not confident in the sustainability of local government finance and none said they were very confident.

The survey also found that almost all (97%) of councils plan to increase council tax in 2019/20 and 53% plan to dip into their reserves this year.

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of LGiU said: “We know that council funding is broken. Eight out of 10 of those people leading English local government tell us it is unsustainable. This year we see that we are no closer to finding a solution. Councils are making do by increasing council tax as much as they can, increasing charging and dipping in to their reserves.

“Now more than ever we need a thriving, resilient local government sector to weather the storm of national uncertainty, but years of chronic underfunding has left local government on life support. So we urgently need a bigger debate about how and at what level we fund vital local services. We hope this survey provides a starting point for that conversation.”

Commenting on the survey, Councillor Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board said: “This survey illustrates the severity of the challenge facing councils with government grant funding at the lowest it has been for decades at the same time as demand for services, such as adult social care, children’s services and homelessness support, has grown. 

“Faced with a government funding settlement that assumes maximum council tax rises and these funding pressures, many councils feel they have little choice but to ask residents to pay more council tax again this year to help them try and protect their local services. With councils facing a funding gap of more than £3 billion this year, council tax rises will not prevent the need for continued cutbacks to local services.”

Tags : FundingLGiULocal Government AssociationResearchState of Local Government Financesurvey
Sarah Clarke

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