EXCLUSIVE: Chiefs warning to May if austerity not lifted

By Dan Peters | 16 October 2018

More councils face scaling back services to a minimum statutory offer if prime minister Theresa May reneges on her promise of ‘better times ahead,’ local authority chief executives have warned.

Pressure on the Government to boost public sector spending in chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget later this month is growing after eight years of austerity, which has led to a number of councils rapidly moving to a core statutory offer.

One in three council bosses have now used a survey by The MJ and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) to warn their organisation will have to reduce to a minimum statutory offer if the cuts fail to come to an end.

Already, the survey found, almost half of bosses report their council’s controllable budget has been reduced by about a third and a further 22% said this has been cut at their authority by a about a quarter.

A third of chiefs revealed their workforce had been slashed by about a quarter since 2010 and 26% said employee numbers had dropped by about a third.

One in six chief executives indicated that less than one-fifth of their budgets now goes toward universal services and more than half (56%) believe they will have to reduce universal services if cuts were to continue.

Responding to the survey, one London borough boss predicted his council’s services would become unsafe, and his authority would become a ‘skeleton of its former self and barely able to deliver on behalf of our citizens’.

As SOLACE members gather in Brighton for their annual summit this week, a report by the society read: ‘With pressures in statutory services such as adult social care, children’s social care and homelessness growing, the scope to invest in local priorities and services that benefit the widest range of people is disappearing.

‘Although we will continue to look for ways to operate more efficiently and generate more income, this will simply not be enough to make up the funding gap we face.’

Writing for The MJ this week, Jo Miller, president of SOLACE, which represents more than 1,300 senior public sector managers, argued the sector should not let ‘Westminster and Whitehall off the hook’.

Ms Miller wrote: ‘In a system where the centre has decided that it always knows best it should be held to account for not heeding our warnings that their decisions eat away at the fabric of many of our communities.’

And, amid findings that found an alarming 44% of chiefs polled expected to be retired in five years’ time, Ms Miller wrote: ‘I know that I speak for many of my peers when I say that being a public service leader has never felt more difficult.

'It is not working in complex and demanding roles that wears us down; it is trying to lead in an operating environment that lacks any long-term plan or strategic vision.’

Read our analysis of the survey results here

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