Local government a vital vehicle for change

Cuts to Local Government are not just leading to the loss of services and quality of those that remain, they are fundamentally restructuring UK society for the worse, said UNISON, the UK’s largest union today. Local Government has lost more than 380,000 jobs since 2011, with the latest figures showing 26,000 have gone since the end of last year.   

A new report*, based on two years’ research by CLES Consulting, on the impact of cuts on local communities, warns that these job losses are having unexpected, far-reaching and negative consequences. Britain is becoming less able to take advantage of opportunities, less resilient to shocks and less able to protect the most vulnerable.

UNISON is calling for local government to be ‘re-valued’ as a central element to the quality of life of local communities, free and empowered to act as a hub to connect local businesses, people, private and social stakeholders.  

The report advocates a six-point plan to reverse the rot and build up strong, resilient, local economies that allow communities to thrive.

Heather Wakefield, UNISON Head of Local Government said:

“The scale of the cuts means that expertise, local networks and services that have been built up over many years are being eroded and much of the damage will be irreversible, without urgent action.

“The deep cuts imposed on local government will have counterproductive effects, making it harder to serve the local population and create resilient local economies.

“It’s time the Government recognised the value of investing in local services and the economy as a way to pull this country out of the economic mire.”

The key elements of the 6-point plan include:

·    Central Government recognition of the leadership role played by local government.  This embraces social and cultural as well as environmental and economic value. Local government support and partnership working with private and social sectors is needed to protect the most vulnerable and for places to prosper.

·     Need to promote in-sourcing of local services to extract maximum value.  Despite the drive for out-sourcing, there is no evidence that private sector delivery improves services or saves money other than through cuts to pay, conditions and pensions.

·     The worst off areas need additional support. The depth and scale of the cuts have severely hit those areas that have historically relied on higher levels of funding to address deep socio-economic issues.

·    A living wage for hard-pressed low-income employees.  Many local government workers are on low incomes and require these to be topped up by tax credits. A living wage should be set at a level to provide a basic standard of living.

·    Development of a focused industrial strategy. The “rising tide lifts all ships” approach has failed to stimulate the UK economy and despite some elements of targeted investment this approach needs to be ramped up.

·     The important role of unions. Unions must maintain a critical role in making the case for the best use of public money and high quality services.

* The Cuts: The UK’s Damaged Future by Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) Consulting