Residents face losing essential services as council finance crisis deepens, say councillors

Councillors have warned about the dire state of local authority finances in a survey published today (Thursday) by UNISON.

The vast majority (90%) say additional funding is needed and three quarters (75%) warn that their council has insufficient resources for providing essential good quality services, such as refuse collections. More than three quarters (76%) say budget cuts have affected service delivery.

The findings are based on a survey of more than 700 councillors across England, Scotland and Wales, representing all the main political parties. The research, Councils on the Brink, raises fresh concerns that more authorities could go over the edge in the wake of the ‘collapse’ of Northamptonshire County Council, says UNISON.

One in five councillors who responded are confident about the future of local services, and just one in four (26%) is confident about the financial situation of their local authority.

The crisis in adult social care was identified in Councils on the Brink as the biggest challenge for councils by nearly three quarters (73%). Just over a third (34%) of councillors believed local residents receive the help and support they need at the right time.

Services for young people are also a major cause for concern. Nearly three quarters (72%) of councillors believe individuals don’t have the necessary support, and less than two fifths (39%) believe vulnerable local residents are safe and cared for by their council.

UNISON head of local government Jon Richards said: “We’ve already seen the appalling effect of council cutbacks on workers and local communities.

“But this new insight from those at the heart of decision-making on where money is spent – and axed from budgets – is deeply concerning.

“The harsh reality facing councils every day is simply not having enough money to keep things running. The tragedy is they’re increasingly being prevented from changing residents’ lives for the better as a result.

“This desperate situation cannot continue. The government needs to act, and the Chancellor could start by announcing extra funding for local councils in next week’s Budget.”

Notes to editors:
– The survey Councils on the Brink was based on responses from 719 councillors and carried out in July and August 2018. To read the full findings click here.
– A report released earlier this year by the Local Government Association revealed councils across England need an extra £5.5bn by 2020 to stop further cutbacks to services.
– Quotes provided by councillors in response to the survey:

  • Labour councillor, Wales: “The austerity agenda has severely affected the delivery of services. It has created the biggest crisis in local government funding in our generation.”
  • Conservative councillor, Waltham Abbey: “If every local authority is not to go the way of Northamptonshire, then every authority needs to keep more of the revenue it collects. Not send the lion’s share to Westminster then have to plead for a pittance back.”
  • Labour councillor, Salford: “It’s painful and terrifying having to decide which essential services to cut next. It’s very scary to think about the increasing crisis in mental health and the people falling through the gaps created by these cuts.” 
  • Conservative councillor, Scotland: “Fewer front-line staff coupled with an ageing demographic don’t provide confidence.”
  • Labour councillor, Rochdale: “We’ve had some of the biggest cuts in the country and the introduction of universal credit has created more demand for services. I’ve had to deal with more evictions than ever because some clients have had their benefits cut or cancelled.”