“English councils’ spending on neighbourhood services, such as bins, planning, potholes and leisure, has fallen by more than £3bn in the past five years, research has found.
A report, published by the benchmarking group, the Association for Public Service Excellence (Apse), says the huge cuts to funding and the wide variations between authorities in funding services were “changing the very nature of local government.”
The reductions amount to a dismantling of universal services that are the most high-profile, core functions of local government, the report says. “These services need defending in their own right as part of wider defence of local government as a whole.”
The most deprived council areas have seen the biggest falls in spending in these services – up to 22% on average over five years among the most deprived fifth of authorities, compared with just 5% among the wealthiest, research shows.
Hundreds of children’s playgrounds in England close due to cuts
The poorest areas had an especially sharp spending fall in, for example, food and water safety inspection, road safety and school crossings, community centres and services aimed at cutting crime – such as CCTV – and support for local bus services.
There were wide variations across the country, with some councils cutting neighbourhood services by 40% while others have increased these budgets by 20%.
The cuts to neighbourhood services have taken place against a backdrop of unprecedented cuts in local government spending as a share of the economy. In 2010-11, it accounted for 8.4% of the economy, falling to 6.7% by 2015-16. By 2020-21, it will be down to 5.7%, a 60-year low, the report says.
Although much of the political focus of local government cuts has been on social care services, the impact on neighbourhood services, which include highways and transport, cultural services, environmental services and planning, has been far greater, the report says.
Spending on neighbourhood services in England fell £3.1bn, or 13%, between 2010-11 and 2015-16 at a time when social care spending increased by £2.3bn.
“Neighbourhood services should be on an equal footing to other public services and not viewed as a painless option for more cuts in local spending,” the report says. …”