Earlier this month, we launched our campaign to influence the forthcoming Spending Review, reiterating our warnings of the growing risk to vital local services if the Government does not take action to secure the financial sustainability of councils.
While we don’t know the exact date of the next Spending Review, our #CouncilsCan campaign kicked off by highlighting that the money local government has to maintain the services our communities rely on is running out fast and the Spending Review will be make or break for councils.
Councils have experienced disproportionately large reductions in government funding over this decade, in comparison to the rest of the public sector. Councils will have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services.
But what does this actually amount to? The bigger picture is that councils in England are now facing an overall funding gap of £8 billion by 2025. And this is just to stand still and incorporate additional demand – it does not even take into account important improvements in local services and councils’ prevention and early intervention work.
Councils are being pushed to the brink by this unprecedented loss of funding and an ongoing surge in demand for some legal duties, in particular to protect children, and supply adult social care support and homelessness services. This is on top of having to absorb other cost pressures, such as higher national insurance contributions, the apprenticeship levy and the National Living Wage.
It is unsurprising that more and more councils are struggling to balance their books. Money is increasingly having to be diverted from optional services, which help build communities people want to live in, to plug growing funding gaps, while some councils have already been forced to cut their services back to the legal minimum ‘core offer’.
But, while the funding is critical, our campaign is not just about asking for more money – it’s about highlighting how councils can achieve the best for their communities with the right powers and investment. In many cases, councils already have proven track records of how they have managed to keep successful local services running through improvement and innovation, despite a lack of funding.
While these many examples show how councils are doing what they can with what they have, many efficiencies and savings have now been made, and the right powers and funding are needed for councils to make a positive difference to residents’ lives and continue to reduce pressures on the rest of the public sector.
Without urgent changes, it is the people who rely on and value council services that will suffer. Councils make our communities places we want to live in and people rightly look to their council to support them and their family, and to be at the heart of their community. This campaign wants to put the issues councils are facing to the top of the Government’s agenda. It is crucial it addresses these issues in the upcoming Spending Review.