“… New research this week by the County Councils Network (CCN) shows that England’s largest, mainly Conservative-led, councils face a combined funding pressure of £3.2bn over the next two years; due to projected demand for services, inflation, and government cuts.
Even more worryingly, our research reveals that faced with these funding pressures, council leaders’ confidence in delivering balanced budgets – a legal requirement of councils – is dramatically falling.
Without a cash injection over the next two years, just one-third of respondents are confident of balancing their books in 2020.
Clearly, any scenario that sees a council unable to balance its budget in 2020 may seem a long way off, but it does not paint a reassuring picture for local councils nor bode well for the future of local services
In the short term, what does this all mean for local residents?
Essentially, the worst is yet to come in reductions to local services if county authorities are to balance their books over the next two years with no additional help from government.
The £3.2bn funding black hole will be filled, but substantial cutbacks will have to be made to residents’ local services.
With county authorities seeing their core government support grant reduced by 92 per cent by 2020, the room for manoeuvre is becoming increasingly small for our councils.
Having made savings in back-office, less visible, or non-essential services, our member councils tell us that they will have little choice but to now cut frontline services substantially.
Last month, our research pointed out that due to unavoidable reductions in home to school travel, some 20,000 less pupils receive free travel to local schools.
This week’s budget survey shows more of this is on the way, with at least £466m in savings being made to frontline areas – think adult social care, children’s social services, pothole filling, and bus services.
At the same time, they will have to introduce new charges for services, or significantly raise council tax to make up the shortfall.
While Liz Truss may not want ministers to make the case for extra cash now, a strong but considered voice round the cabinet table for local government – in the form of James Brokenshire – is desperately needed.
Counties want to work with government in a proactive, and constructive way; supporting the new communities secretary in his case to the Treasury for more resources for councils. Otherwise, we might see drastic changes to our local services over the next few years.”