UNISON research reveals scale of council deficits

Finances have been hit by increased spending to deal with COVID and a reduction in income because of the pandemic

New UNISON research reveals the scale of the impact that COVID-19 has had on council finances across England and Wales.

Huge increases in spending needed required to fight the pandemic, coupled with a massive hit to council income streams, meant that, in December 2020, top-tier councils predicted funding gaps totalling over £1bn by the end of the financial year (March 2021).

District and borough councils are often overlooked even more than their top-tier equivalents, but they provide a range of important local services, from council housing and local planning, to recycling, refuse collection and leisure facilities.

New UNISON research shows that, in December, district and borough councils predicted a collective deficit of £179m before the end of the financial year, based on a 98% response rate out of 188 relevant councils. Given those responses, the gap could hit £400m in both 2021/22 and 2022/23.

These funding gaps will increase as the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is realised over the coming years and, unless central government at Westminster acts urgently to provide more funding for all councils across the country, the provision of services will be put at risk.

The union’s council cuts website shows the impact of the pandemic on each top-tier council across England and Wales. In two months, almost 30,000 people have visited the site to look up their local council to see what funding gap is being forecast. Over 8,000 people have used the tool to contact their MPs about the issue.

UNISON’s Save Our Services campaign is calling on the government to fund all local councils better. You can read more about the campaign and get involved here.

The union is asking people to email their MP about the need for more council funding. You can take part by clicking here.

District and borough council funding gaps by region


Table showing projected council deficits in England