by Ian Shires on 15 October, 2019
Published in LGC 15 OCTOBER 2019 BY JESSICA HILL
LGC’s Confidence Survey finds austerity is far from over despite the government’s recent promises of more funding
Austerity is not over for local government despite recent funding announcements, LGC’s latest confidence survey has found.
Just 3% of the 214 LGC subscribers who responded to the survey, carried out in the wake of September’s spending round, said austerity will have ended for local government next year.
The spending round made an additional £2.9bn available to local government in 2020-21, equivalent to a 4.3% increase in spending power, although more than £1.5bn of this is from assumed increases in council tax.
‘Managing a £1bn a year organisation on a one-year-at-a-time basis is no way to plan and run a large organisation’
County chief executive
The survey results suggest councils are still very much feeling the pinch after a decade of government cuts, with 41% of respondents, the vast majority of whom are senior officers, not confident their council will realise all its budget savings for the 2019-20 financial year. The ‘not confident’ proportion rose to 47% among respondents from county councils.
One county chief criticised the government for setting out spending plans for only one year. “Managing a £1bn a year organisation on a one-year-at-a-time basis is no way to plan and run a large organisation,” they said.
Three per cent of respondents said their council had already reached the point of financial crisis where it was unable to provide the statutory minimum level of service required. Another 10% said they would reach crisis point in the next 12 months, with a further 28% by 2021.
There was not a single council service area that a majority of officers believe will be protected from further cuts. However, the level of concern over cuts had reduced slightly for most services. As in previous years, our survey results indicate that the axe is likely to fall first on the neighbourhood services such as libraries and street cleaning as efforts are made to shore up statutory adult social care and children’s services.
A senior manager from a county council in the south-east lamented that their councilís finances are “dominated by fashionable causes such as anything with child or vulnerable in the department’s title”.
Although the majority (56%) of respondents were doubtful social care would be protected from further cuts, the net confidence score of -31% compares favourably with last year’s -44% rating and -60% in 2017, reflecting the targeting of billions of pounds in additional funding at these areas over the past couple of years.
Children’s services also had an improved net confidence rating this year, -20% compared with -27% last year and -50% in 2017. However, 63% of respondents said the level of funding pledged in the spending round is not enough to meet expected demand for children’s social care next year.
The majority of respondents (53%) did not expect to be able to reinstate early intervention services that have been ended or stripped back in recent years.
A director at a unitary in the north-west said that in the future all statutory services will have to be “cut back” to operate at “inadequate standards, but just so the box can be ticked to state they are being delivered”.
One county council manager said services were being pushed back to an “absolute minimum”, “pushing the problems further down the line when the problems become bigger”.
The survey suggested libraries are likely to be first on the list of cutbacks, as 86% of respondents were doubtful they would be protected from further cuts – the majority (52%) being “very doubtful”. The -79% net confidence rating was the lowest level recorded for libraries in our confidence surveys since 2015.
Street cleaning also looks likely to be cut, with 74% of respondents doubtful the service would be protected, amounting to a net confidence rating of -66% compared with -57% last year.
One district director described being “cut to the bone struggling to provide services with further cuts inevitable”. Another senior manager warned that “the alienation of a section of society and the related ills of knife crime, county lines and cuckooing will remain until the services lost due to austerity can be restored”.
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