A survey has revealed that only one in five of England’s largest councils are confident that they will be able to provide a balanced budget in 2021, without dramatic reductions to frontline services.
Confidence drops further regarding 2022/23, with only one council confident in its ability to balance its budget without impacting services such as social care.
The survey, by the County Councils Network (CCN), comes as the network forecasts a £1.7 billion shortfall for councils next year.
This, it said, will only be exacerbated by England’s second lockdown.
Respondents reportedly said that, after years of austerity, there is limited scope for the reduction of non-care services like libraries and bus routes.
This means that care services will likely be the hardest hit at a time when they are most needed, CCN said.
Elsewhere, only one responding council said that it will consider investing in social care if extra funding is made available.
Councillor David Williams, chairman of the County Councils Network, said: “Over the past decade, councils have done all they can to protect frontline services, transforming their organisations so they are more efficient.
“But as this survey shows, we are quickly running out of ways to meet the funding shortfall without dramatic reductions which will make visible and damaging changes to highly-valued services.
“The financial support provided by government over the past year has been very welcome.
“But even before the onslaught of a second wave, councils were facing difficult choices and they are now left with little room to manoeuvre over the coming months as they face further escalating costs resulting in an immediate cliff-edge next year.
“Councils have pulled out all the stops throughout this pandemic to protect residents, maintain vital services and support the economic recovery.
“To ensure that they can continue to do whatever it takes over the winter to combat coronavirus and to prevent severe reductions to services next year, they need a significant increase in funding for 2021/22, alongside an income guarantee to protect against losses in council tax.”