Cuts and funding

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2023 National Local Government Service Group Conference
15 February 2023
Carried as Amended

Conference believes that, due to years of under-funding and cuts from the Westminster government, local government across the UK is in grave danger. Extensive UNISON research from last autumn revealed that councils across the UK were facing a funding shortfall of £3.2bn in 2023/24 and a cumulative funding gap of £5.3bn for 2024/25. A small but growing number of councils have effectively declared bankruptcy with more councils having to plug their financial gaps by relying on the one-off use of reserves. We need to see massive re-investment in local government from the centre, along with a new, positive vision for local government which recognises the fantastic work local government staff do and roots local public services in an ethos of democracy, equality and public ownership.

The financial crisis is a huge threat to our members’ jobs and pay as well as the services they provide, and we must continue to campaign for better and fairer funding for the sector. Local government funding should return to 2010 levels. Conference believes that this level of funding is affordable by the government, and we must promote this reality among our membership.

Conference condemns the Westminster government for failing to adjust and increase council funding this year to keep up with soaring energy costs and spiralling inflation rates despite repeated requests from UNISON and the wider local government sector.

Conference also condemns the repeated failure of the Scottish government to adequately fund local councils compared to other parts of the public sector in Scotland. Recent analysis from the Audit Commission showed that revenue funding from Scottish government to local government between 2013/14 and 2021/22 increased by 6.1 per cent (in real terms) whereas Scottish government revenue funding to other parts of the Scottish government budget increased by a significantly higher figure of 27.2 per cent over the same period.

Conference notes that despite council funding in Wales increasing by 7.9% on average, this is not enough to cover the significant funding gaps that Welsh councils will be facing. The Welsh Local Government Association have indicated that this funding increase will only cover around half the funding gap.

Conferences welcomes UNISON’s continuing campaign on local government funding over the last year, including: our council cuts website, showing the individual funding shortfalls that all top tier councils across Scotland, Cymru/Wales and England face; and thousands of emails sent by UNISON members to national politicians across the UK calling for more funding alongside our widespread lobbying work. Our ongoing Local Service Champions work has helps to increase awareness of the positive work carried out by council workers and has been used to further highlight the need for more funding.

Conference calls on the Service Group Executive to:

1)Continue to campaign strongly for proper recognition of local government services, calling for the investment needed to provide services and safeguard jobs, an end to the austerity politics which cause cuts to services, job and pay, and for local government funding to be significantly increased to deliver on this investment;

2)Generate a range of political activity in parliaments across the UK calling for more funding for council services, working with Labour Link, including organising local and national actions around key events such as Budget days;

3)Raise awareness about the importance and contribution of local government workers to our society through a series of high-profile campaign actions (for example the Local Service Champions campaign) and provide opportunities for UNISON members and members of the public to lobby for more council funding;

4)Conduct a further Freedom of Information request and use the data to update the Council Cuts website to illustrate the scale of the funding gap faced by councils across the UK and encourage people to lobby national politicians for more council funding;

5)Produce a summary report of all of the cuts local government has experienced since 2010;

6)Continue to provide high quality local government finance training to help branches across the UK to understand, interrogate and influence their local council’s budgetary process;

7)Explore building on the successful work carried out by the UNISON Cymru/Wales and explore holding local government finance briefings for national politicians across the UK;

8)Encourage branches and regions to organise campaigns opposed to cuts in funding that identify the additional money needed to close any funding deficit and seek to gain support of local councillors to campaign for these amounts from national governments;

9)Continue to campaign for outsourced services to be brought in-house, supporting branch campaigns, sharing good practice and training activists and organisers.