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Councils in England, Wales and Scotland are grappling with huge budget deficits totalling £3.09bn for the next financial year*, according to research published by UNISON today (Wednesday).

The record shortfall in 2022/23 will lead to huge service and staff cuts at local authorities across Britain unless the government urgently finds the money to protect communities, the union says.

The stark results show the mammoth savings needed to balance the books, without new funding from the government. The cuts will result in significant reductions in the vital support given to local people unless councils receive emergency help, says UNISON.

Many councils have already suffered massive cuts to services in recent years, including bin collections, teaching assistant numbers, social care, library hours and community spaces such as parks. Any further reductions would strip even more essential services to the bone or remove them completely, says UNISON.

Throughout the pandemic councils have kept services running, protected the vulnerable and delivered new functions. It’s essential they receive enough funding to provide for communities as life returns to normal, UNISON says.

Councils grappling with large budget deficits include:

  • Hampshire County Council, which faces making more than £65.9m savings next year. Eight libraries across the county have already closed within the past year, at the cost of 50 jobs, and the county’s remaining library opening hours have been significantly reduced.
  • Cheshire West and Chester Council has an almost £26m financial black hole, despite scaling back social care services by closing three respite centres. The move axed 95 beds and 98 staff roles.
  • Hackney Council faces an £11m deficit in a London borough where 48% of children live in poverty. Teaching assistant jobs have been cut during several school restructures over the past year, with more cost saving reforms ahead. UNISON says the move will particularly disadvantage children with learning difficulties, behavioural issues or where English is not the first language.
  • North Warwickshire Council has a £1.6m shortfall and made reductions to care services, resulting in the loss of 23 jobs.
  • Plymouth comes in at £2.1M and continues to reduce staff levels by natural wastage, but how much longer before it has to make a “difficult decision” ?

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “These council-funding shortfalls will result in cuts that are likely to hit the poorest in society hardest.

“Children struggling in class won’t be able to get the extra help they need to succeed. Families of the elderly and people needing support will be denied the services on which so many of them rely. Access to much-loved parks, libraries and community facilities are at risk of being taken away.

“The government must step up and help local councils desperately trying to keep afloat. If Boris Johnson is serious about levelling-up, this money must be found. Ministers cannot allow a two-tier society to develop where some of the most in need are left behind.”

Kevin Treweeks, Branch Secretary of Plymouth in UNISON and South West Representative on UNISON Local Government Committee said “We can’t keep kidding ourselves that we are improving services and making cuts at the same time. We don’t need more restructures and management consultants we need the resources to do the job right”

Find out more and email your MP from our Save Our Services Site, we will share your replies here if you send them to us.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT FUNDING

Thank you for contacting me about local government funding.

Councils are on the frontline delivering the services that people rely on and which support and enrich our communities every day. I pay tribute to care staff, refuse collectors, social workers, and all local government staff for their significant contribution in the national effort to deal with COVID-19.

Despite financial pressures, the response of local authorities during the pandemic has been remarkable. They have worked to protect local communities and businesses while continuing to deliver existing services. COVID-19 has in turn placed significant pressure on local authorities’ finances, which in many cases were already under strain going into the pandemic.

According to the National Audit Office (NAO), total funding across England has fallen in real terms by 56.3% over the last decade. The Local Government Association equates this to a £15 billion reduction.

A recent NAO report found many local authorities are relying on reserves to balance their budgets; three-quarters of all councils report a funding gap and almost all expect to make cuts in service budgets this year. The NAO said a combination of high funding gaps and low reserve levels means that some local authorities are at risk of financial failure.

At the start of this pandemic, the Government pledged to support local government. Instead of listening to councils and giving them the resources they need, the Government instead asked them to increase council taxes across the country,  at a time when the UK economy is coming out of the biggest crisis in three centuries.

I urge Ministers to keep their promise to do whatever is necessary and provide councils with the support, national leadership and focus they deserve.

Thank you once again for contacting me about this important issue.

Best wishes,
Luke

Luke Pollard MP
Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport

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