“LGA chief says austerity could damage local authorities ‘beyond recognition’
Local authorities have reached the point where relentless financial cutbacks are putting the wellbeing of vulnerable adults and children at risk, the Conservative leader of the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.
The Tory peer Lord Porter said that after eight years of austerity during which £16bn has been stripped from municipal budgets in England, councils risked being “damaged beyond recognition” and communities depleted of vital services.
An £8bn black hole in council budgets would open up by 2023 unless ministers stepped in to close the gap between spiralling demand for adult and children’s social care services and shrinking town hall incomes, he said.
“We’ve reached a point where councils will no longer be able to support our residents as they expect, including our most vulnerable,” Porter added.
As well as problems coping with demand for services for elderly and disabled adults, the LGA says councils are struggling with an explosion in the number of children in care, and a rising bill for 80,000 homeless families placed in temporary housing.
An LGA briefing on the prospects for local government states: “The failure to properly fund these services puts the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable residents at risk, and this cannot go on.”
Porter’s intervention, ahead of the LGA annual conference, which opens in Birmingham on Tuesday, reflects councils’ increasing concern about the precariousness of local authority finances, and frustration that ministers are ignoring the escalating crisis in social care.
While the NHS last month received a five-year £20bn cash injection, the government’s plans to overhaul the funding of adult social care services, originally due in a green paper before the summer, were delayed until the autumn. Council bosses have warned that in many areas these services are on the verge of collapse.
The fragility of many individual councils’ finances has increased speculation that more local authorities could follow Northamptonshire county council into bankruptcy. In May, Tory-controlled Somerset called for an overhaul of council funding after it was warned by auditors it could go bust.
Council leaders are also worried about the political consequences of having to sacrifice popular local services such as libraries, Sure Start centres, parks and leisure centres to divert funds into core services such as social care.
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Porter said: “Councils now spend less on early intervention, support for the voluntary sector has been reduced, rural bus services have been scaled back, libraries have been closed and other services have also taken a hit. More and more councils are struggling to balance their books and others are considering whether they have the funding to even deliver their statutory requirements.
“If the government allows the funding gap facing councils and local services to reach almost £8bn by the middle of the next decade, then our councils and local services will be damaged beyond recognition.”
The LGA is calling for councils’ funding problems to be addressed through a government spending review expected in spring 2019, which is likely to set out public services funding plans over the four years to 2023.
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “We recognise the pressures councils are facing, so we are working with local government to develop a funding system for the future. Over the next two years, we are providing councils with £90.7bn to help them meet the needs of their residents. On top of this, we are giving them the power to retain more of the income they get from business rates so they can use it to drive further growth in their area.”
Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities and local government secretary, said: “This new analysis is a damning verdict on eight years of Tory austerity. Our public services are straining at the seams, whilst the government continues to cut funding.”