EXCLUSIVE: Down to the core

By Dan Peters | 13 February 2019

Six out of 10 senior council figures admit their authority is now only delivering a basic core offer of service, The MJ and LGiU think-tank’s annual local government finance survey has revealed.

The survey of chief executives, finance director and senior councillors from more than 150 councils found 61% confessed their authority was providing just ‘a little bit more than our statutory obligations’.
 

Three councils even conceded that they were delivering no extras on top of their statutory obligations.

And one in 20 (6%) used the survey to warn there was a danger that their council will be unable to fulfil its statutory duties this year due to financial constraints.

Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts, said: ‘I think it’s quite shocking.

'Clearly, statutory services and looked after children are absolutely crucial but most people don’t receive these services so this is a real challenge to local democracy.

'Parks, libraries and refuse collection remain important and if these are being cut people may begin to ask what’s the point of voting?’

The survey comes a few months after East Sussex CC grabbed national headlines when it laid out a list of services it could provide as a ‘core offer’.

Head of local government at trade union Unison, Jon Richards, said: ‘In many cases money is now so tight that councils aren’t providing much more than the bare legal minimum.’

As councils struggle to match rising expectations with less money, more than half of respondents (53%) warned that the financial situation facing local government was now negatively affecting their relationship with the public.

And this is likely to be damaged further in 2019/20, with 46% of sector leaders planning to cut arts and culture, 45% parks and leisure facilities and 29% adult social care.

Chair of the Local Government Association’s resources board, Cllr Richard Watts, warned: ‘Council tax rises will not prevent the need for continued cutbacks to local services.’

As well as three-quarters of respondents revealing plans to increase council tax by more than 2.5%, 87% are also eyeing up fees and charges as a source of income and more than half (57%) plan to sell off assets.

In addition, 61% expect the delivery of core services to become reliant on income from commercial investments.

LGiU chief executive, Jonathan Carr-West, said: ‘In the future, care for the elderly and vulnerable children could be funded from shopping centre investments and car parks, which carries significant risk if the economy tanks.’

President of the Association of Local Authority Treasurers Societies, Duncan Whitfield, said planning affordable local service provision felt like ‘something of a lottery’ while local government finance spokesman for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, Martin Reeves, called for a ‘long-term plan to provide councils the certainty, stability and flexibility they need’.

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said the department was providing local authorities with access to £91.5bn over the next two years and was ‘paving the way for a fairer, more self-sufficient and resilient future’ for the sector.

For our analysis of the survey results click here

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