Local government spending cuts have left councils across the UK unable to meet the needs of local communities and, in some cases, are putting the public at risk, says UNISON today (Monday).
A survey, released to coincide with the union’s local government conference, reveals that eight in ten (79%) council workers have no confidence in the future of local services, and half (50%) are thinking of leaving their jobs for less stressful work elsewhere.
The survey – of 21,000 local government employees working across all services – reveals that two-thirds (67%) say residents don’t receive help and support when they need it, and more than half (54%) are not confident vulnerable residents are safe and cared for.
Council staff who took part shared stories of families living in mouldy, overcrowded properties; fly-tipping being left for weeks; increasing rodent populations; residents’ cars damaged by huge potholes; and vulnerable children, young people and adults not getting the help and support they need.
A recent National Audit Office* (NAO) report revealed that government funding for local authorities in England has fallen by an estimated 49% (in real terms) from 2010-11 to 2017-18. In UNISON’s survey, an overwhelming 83% admitted these cuts have had a negative impact on their ability to do the job as well as they can.
While local authorities have protected spending on statutory service areas such as adult and children’s social care, the amount they spend on other areas like parks and libraries has fallen sharply, says UNISON.
Worryingly, over half those who responded (53%) believe their council no longer delivers quality services, and almost half (48%) that their employer doesn’t make the right decisions for the public. Additionally, almost two-thirds (63%) are concerned about the financial situation of their council.
Council workers identified a lack of front line staff (64%), adult social care (61%), safeguarding children and young people (47%), a lack of housing options (44%) and road repairs (41%) as the biggest challenges facing local authorities.
Almost three-quarters (73%) of those surveyed said there had been redundancies in their departments and as a result, three in five (60%) don’t feel secure in their jobs. Many spoke of colleagues leaving and not being replaced, causing those remaining to pick up the extra work. As a result, over half (53%) said their workload is unmanageable and another three in five (61%) that they regularly work beyond their contracted hours.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Local services are collapsing and council workers are being left to pick up the pieces and do the best they can amid the chaos. This disturbing survey should ring alarm bells in Whitehall and also alert ministers to the crisis happening in councils up and down the country.
“Local authorities have had to cut so many vital services that they have now reached a point where vulnerable children and the elderly struggle to get the help that they need, entire communities are suffering, and the public are being put at risk.
“With cuts to road and bridge maintenance, potholes in roads are left unfilled, and bridges are at risk of crumbling. Crematoriums are not maintained, streetlights stay broken, and parks are in disrepair as councils don’t have the equipment or the staff to adequately maintain them.
“There are now over one million people with an unmet need for social care because councils don’t have the resources to support them. Now is the time to reverse these cuts and invest in local government once more or the very fabric of our society will come unstuck.”
Notes to editors:
– Councils at breaking point, the report based on the survey is available here.
– Quotes from council employees:
A social care worker in Essex said: “Social housing stock is poorly maintained and in very short supply. We have a lot of overcrowded families living in very damp, mouldy properties.”
A children’s social worker said: “We are simply reacting to urgent issues and referrals and are not doing any preventative work to resolve situations before they become a crisis.”
A street cleaner in Wiltshire said: “Resources have been cut way past the bone. I used to litter pick a number of streets and then take up to four truck loads of fly tip off the streets to the dump before lunch, then use a road sweeper in the afternoon. Now they deploy one man with a wheelbarrow to cover the same area.
“The drastic cuts mean our council has failed to comply with environmental legislation. Councils are meant to monitor areas and in residential areas resolve the problem within hours, not days, weeks or months. The rodent population has increased dramatically in the last two years and the risk to public health is now visible.”
A highway and environment manager in the South West said: “I dread taking holidays as there is no cover so all it means is sinking further behind. Similarly evenings and weekends no longer provide respite from work as I can no longer really switch off. We used to describe being busy and pulled all ways as “fire-fighting”. I describe the current situation as being “engulfed in flames”.
A children’s care worker in Scotland said: “The menu for children is shocking and there is never enough food sent up to the schools.”
A library worker in Hampshire said: “Decisions are increasingly being made based on revenue potential rather than value to the public, leaving the poorest and most vulnerable without access to services they depend upon. And staff are being forced to pay for very basic provisions out of their own pocket, due to budget restrictions.
We have lost four full-time members of staff in the last year, and there is no intention to replace them. We have been explicitly told that we are not allowed to mention budget constraints as an explanation to any enquiries about reduced services, and threatened with disciplinary action if we do so.”
– *NAO report the financial sustainability of local authorities 2018. In Scotland, the financial settlement for local government at the start of the year saw councils across Scotland left needing an extra £375m just to stand still in 2018/19. In Wales, councils face a shortfall in funding for the next two years. Core funding for local government has reduced by nearly £800m, or 20%, since 2011-12.
– This week is UNISON’s national conference which runs for four days from Tuesday (19 June); the local government conference (Sunday 17 to Monday 18 June); water, environment and transport (Sunday 17 to Monday 18 June); and energy (Monday 18 June). All conferences take place in Brighton at the Brighton Centre.