“England’s mainly Conservative-run county councils have warned ministers that the “worst is yet come” over cuts to local services and that several authorities risk going bust unless steps are taken to shore up crumbling budgets.
Only an emergency injection of funds next year to counter a growing financial “black hole” would head off severe cuts to services and potential unrest among local MPs, the County Councils Network said.
It said councils faced having to make “truly unpalatable” cuts to key services such as social care, refuse disposal, libraries, Sure Start centres and roads maintenance while putting up council tax bills and introducing new charges.
There is growing concern about the financial resilience of county councils, which are struggling to meet rising demand for high-cost, high-volume services such as adult and children’s social care.
This year the Tory-run Northamptonshire county council effectively went bankrupt after failing to balance its budget, and the National Audit Office said one in 10 councils with social care responsibilities could follow suit.
A survey carried out by the County Councils Network, which represents 36 councils delivering services to 27 million people, found that a third would struggle to balance their budgets for 2019-20 without extra funding, rising to two-thirds by 2020-21.
A budget analysis estimates that county councils face a £3.2bn gap between income and costs over the next two years, caused in part by projected extra demand for social care services and in part by government cuts.
Paul Carter, the County Councils Network chairman and Tory leader of Kent county council, said: “We will work hard to deliver the savings required this year, but the scope for making deliverable savings has dramatically reduced and decisions for next year will be truly unpalatable if we are to fulfil our statutory duties. Without additional resource, the worst is yet to come.”
Nick Rushton, the leader of Leicestershire county council, said savings of £200m locally since 2010 had cut services to the bone. “Without extra money the consequences could be dire,” he said.
The recent announcement of £20bn of extra funding for the NHS has left local authorities frustrated at the government’s lack of urgency in addressing the simmering financial crisis in town halls and the growing crisis in adult social care and child protection services.
The government recently announced that the social care funding green paper, expected before the summer recess, would not now appear until the autumn.”