UK councils slash services to close £3.2bn budget shortfall | local government

Libraries and children’s centers are closing and door-to-door pick-ups for young disabled people are canceled as councils try to make up for a £3.2billion budget shortfall next year.

With inflation and energy prices eating away at budgets, local authorities across the UK are facing a record black hole that is unlikely to be plugged by central government as the Treasury seeks to cut spending to make up for a deficit of £30-50 billion in public finances. .

Union Unison collected data from 391 councils, compiled through freedom of information requests and financial statements, and found nearly nine in 10 had a projected budget shortfall for the 2023 financial year /24.

Unison said its data shows the biggest budget shortfall of £80million next year will be faced by Birmingham City Council, which cites Liz Truss’ mini-budget as one of the factors contributing to the deterioration of its finances.

Over the past few days, the numbers have worsened in several large areas of the council. Edinburgh council announced this week it also faces an £80m black hole, up from £70m last month, with the local Labor leader warning of “probably the worst cuts that I have seen from my time in this council”.

Kent County Council said it was increasing its planned overspending to £70million from £50million just three months ago, with its Conservative leader of council telling colleagues: ‘We don’t never envisioned a set of projected pressures on this scale; no one should doubt the seriousness of the situation. He said no department would be immune to cuts.

In Lancashire, the council said this week that its projects deficit had nearly tripled from £30.5m to £87m – even more than Birmingham. He is considering cost-cutting measures on everything from mowing the grass less frequently to cutting spending on placing children in homes.

Unison’s survey found that waste collections, leisure centres, nurseries and other vital services are already cut in some local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales as they prepare for a difficult year ahead. The data suggests the cumulative funding gap is set to widen to over £5.28bn in 2024/25.

Some of the current and impending reductions include:

– Wirral Council is closing nine libraries by the end of this month, two of which are being handed over to community and church groups

– Gateshead Council is considering closing two leisure centers deemed ‘unaffordable’ as it grapples with a £6.5m shortfall

– Leeds City Council is canceling Bonfire Night events in six locations next month to save £200,000 in non-essential spending amid budget pressures

– Hillingdon Council, covering Boris Johnson’s constituency, plans to close its three crèches, which provide more than 100 childcare places in the borough

– Hampshire County Council is considering scrapping a transport scheme that takes thousands of disabled children to school to save £1million. Door-to-door pickups would be replaced by drop-off points

– Norfolk County Council plans to reduce access to recycling centers by closing them on Wednesdays, its Tory council leader warning it has never faced funding cuts on this scale, to fill a £60m discrepancy

The Local Government Association has warned Jeremy Hunt in a letter that the more than £3billion shortfall facing councils will lead to cuts, especially as inflation has worsened since the announcement of the latest local government financial settlement. “Without immediate additional funding, councils will face increasingly difficult decisions about which services to stop providing as rising costs hit budgets. This means not just isolated closures of individual facilities, but significant reductions in the services people rely on, including those of the most vulnerable in our society,” he said.

On Thursday, the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) also said its councils were facing pressure “on an unprecedented scale”, with “painful cuts” to come.

Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, which represents 600,000 local public servants, said: “Cash-strapped councils are having to resort to increasingly desperate measures after years of austerity just to maintain services. Now the government looks set to make the situation infinitely worse with emergency spending cuts after the mini-budget fiasco.

Local communities cannot be the ones to pay the price for the government’s grotesque mismanagement of the economy. The new Prime Minister and Chancellor must address the local government funding crisis and give councils the money they need to save services.

Asked about the £80m shortfall in Birmingham, which is the largest local authority, council leader Ian Ward said: “Like councils across the country, we are currently drawing up budget proposals for 2023/ 24 and everything will be done to safeguard the vital services that the people of Birmingham rely on.

“As the Local Government Association has made clear, soaring inflation, rising energy prices and pressures on the ‘National Living Wage’ put municipal services at risk, while the crisis in the cost of life, made worse by the collapse of our economy by the Conservatives, means increased demand for support and services.

“This is a perfect storm for local government and without government action councils will have no choice but to drastically reduce local services. So if government is truly determined to stabilize, the statement Chancellor’s autumn letter of 17 November should not signal a return to austerity.

A government spokesman said further details of the spending would be presented in the fall statement in November.

“We recognize that councils may be concerned about their budgets in the face of the difficult economic times we find ourselves in and we continue to work closely with them to understand the impact inflation may be having,” the doorman said. -word.

“This year alone we have made an additional £3.7 billion available to ensure councils have the resources they need to deliver vital public services.”

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