Cuts to local councils undermine their work and have hit deprived areas hardest
Residents of 125 English council areas are electing new representatives today, in what’s expected to be a good election for the Tories and a bad one for Labour.
But whoever ends up controlling councils, they will face the bleak reality of deep cuts to local governance severely restricting councillors’ ability to affect change.
According to the IFS, local authorities had their per-person spending reduced by 23.4 per cent under the last government, largely as a result of cuts to central government grants. Business rate reforms in this year’s budget will likely do further damage to local finances.
89 per cent of councils will have to increase council tax in the year ahead to balance their budgets, according to research by the Local Government Information Unit and MJ. 82 per cent say they will have to dip into their reserves, and nearly 40 per cent will have to make frontline cuts to services that will be evident to the public.
There are also concerns that the additional £3.5bn of cuts that George Osborne has promised by 2020 will target local government.
At the same time, the central government is trying to force councils to bankroll the extension of Right to Buy by selling off large numbers of higher value council homes.
While councils are almost universally dealing with funding shortages, Labour says that the axe has fallen hardest on deprived regions, a view that has the backing of the IFS.
According to Labour research published last month, nine of the 10 most deprived councils in England are set to see cuts higher than the national average, eight of which face cuts more than three times higher the national average.
The council that has received the biggest cut is Knowsley, the second most deprived area in the country.
Additionally, cuts have disproportionately affected Labour councils which, according to the same research, face an average loss of 21 per cent of funding, compared to 13 per cent for Tory councils.
The same analysis revealed that the five councils least hit by cuts were all in the constituencies of cabinet ministers — Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, Chris Grayling, Philip Hammond and Michael Gove.
The effects of these cuts are numerous, encompassing planning and development, regulation and safety, housing, and transport.
Although social care is the largest component of council spending, it has been shielded from the worst effects of the cuts because councils have been allowed to increase their share of council tax by up to two per cent to cover the costs.
Nine out of ten councils currently rely on this precept, but 75 per cent say that it will not be sufficient to close the funding gap in adult social care.
Cuts to funding come in tandem with other efforts to undermine councils’ authority, most prominently the removal of schools from council control through forced academisation.
While the Tory government has promised increased devolution, the fiscal constraints that councils face undermine their ability to serve their constituents.
Voting for non-Tory councillors will strengthen local resistance to further squeezing of local governance. But regardless of the outcome of today’s elections, local councils will continue to operate on the brink of disaster.
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