We’ll slash vital services if Sunak withholds £4bn, England’s councils warn | Local government

Councils across England are planning to slash funding for frontline services – including those for adult care and children – in response to a growing cash crisis.

As pressure grows on the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to rescue councils in this week’s public spending review, local authorities are forecast to overrun their budgets by more than a billion pounds this financial year. The Local Government Association (LGA) predicts a £4bn shortfall next year without governnment help.

West Sussex council, which is facing a £44m shortfall next year, is planning to cut early years funding and subsidised bus services, as well as winding down its Help at Home service, which assists nearly 700 vulnerable older people with basic domestic tasks such as cleaning and shopping.

In south London, Lewisham’s plans include cutting family services in children’s centres and ending a scheme that subsidises public transport fares for disabled residents. And Manchester city council’s “least worst” scenario is cuts to rough sleeper services and a 20% reduction in housing-related support budgets, which it admits would cause a rise in homelessness and rough sleeping.

Hull council, which has been hit hard by the second wave of Covid, is among several to warn it will struggle to provide mandatory services next year without a further cash injection.

Councils say the cuts are the result of a decade of austerity combined with the impact of the pandemic which has increased demands on services while severely hitting revenue streams such as council tax, parking fees and commercial rates income.

Critics accuse the government of reneging on pledges to fully compensate councils for Covid-related losses. Kate Hollern, the shadow minister for local government, said: “In May the communities secretary promised to stand behind councils. Ever since he’s been rowing back on that promise.

“If the government doesn’t want to see councils go under, it must keep its promise so that the services communities desperately rely on during this pandemic are not axed next year.”

Adult care services face big hits. Leeds council which proposes, among other options, closing two care homes, and 10% cuts to dementia and carer services, Leeds council says the impact could be reduced if the government provides more funds. Caroline Abrahams, charity director for Age UK, said: “If anyone wondered if the government’s strategy of expecting councils to fund social care locally had run out of road, they finally know the answer now. Not only have councils exhausted other services they can reasonably be expected to cut, local social care needs are not correlated with the amounts of funding different areas are able to raise.”

The LGA is calling for the government to pump an extra £8.7bn into local government next year, to cover the forecast £4bn spending shortfall plus extra money to improve services and manage rising demand.

Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s resources board, said: “Many councils were in a difficult financial position before the pandemicafter a decade of central government funding reductions. They will continue to face spiralling pressures on day-to-day services. – some pre-existing and others made more significant by the impact of Covid-19 –amid substantial income losses, such as from local taxation, fees and charges. Securing the immediate and long-term sustainability of local services must now be the top priority for the spending review.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We’re giving councils unprecedented support during the pandemic to tackle the pressures they have told us they’re facing – including £7.2bn funding, compensation for irrecoverable losses and a scheme allowing them to spread their tax deficits.” Any council “concerned about their future financial position,” the spokesperson added, “should contact MHCLG.”

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