Shocking picture of austerity cuts to local services is revealed by UNISON

Hundreds of youth centres, libraries and public toilets causing huge impact on communities

The true scale of almost a decade of savage austerity cuts to local communities across Britain is laid bare in a study published by UNISON today (Friday), showing the impact of huge reductions in council funding.

A series of freedom of information (FoI) requests across England, Scotland and Wales examined the changes in local services between 2010 and 2019 for several key council services, including youth centres, public toilets, libraries and subsidised bus routes.

Central government cuts have led to a 17% fall in council spending on local services in England since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. Between then and the end of the decade, grant funding for councils in England has been reduced by £16bn and there have also been significant cuts for councils in Wales and Scotland.

The FoI findings, using data for 330 local authorities show the human cost of the cutbacks:

  • A total of 859 children’s centres and family hubs (which provide support services for babies, young people and families) have been closed, while 940 youth centres have been lost.
  • More than a fifth (21%) of public toilets have closed, with more than 835 public conveniences disappearing since the Conservatives came to power.
  • The number of council-subsidised bus routes has decreased by almost a third (32%), a reduction of more than 1,224 services, increasing the isolation of many living in rural communities.
  • More than one in five (22%) libraries have either closed, been privatised or are now staffed by volunteers. This is a decrease of 738 council-run libraries. Over the past decade there’s been a ten-fold rise in the number run by volunteers, up from 21 to 227.

UNISON’s research has found that Hertfordshire County Council, which contains Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ constituency of Welwyn Hatfield, has cut funding to almost half (47%) of its bus routes affecting 107 services.

Cabinet ministers Dominic Raab and Michael Gove are contesting to regain Parliamentary seats within local authority Surrey County Council, which has closed 37 children’s centres and family hubs across the county.

Commenting on the study, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The scale of the cuts is both breathtaking and disturbing.

“Each cut has a major impact on a community, whether it’s a pensioner feeling isolated in their home because they can’t get a bus or people being unable to borrow books or use the internet in local libraries.The widespread axeing of youth centres has left many young people with nowhere to turn at crucial points in their lives.

“Squeezed budgets have forced councils to make impossible decisions. No local authority wants to cut the services it offers but with much less funding coming from Westminster, they’ve often had little choice. It’s vulnerable people and those least able to fend for themselves who suffer most.

“This is the shocking legacy of nine years of Tory spending cuts. People should think about the services lost to their communities when they cast their vote on polling day.”

Notes to editors
– UNISON’s data was gathered from local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales with 330 out of 398 supplying figures (83%).
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.
– Regional data can be viewed here