If the Conservatives are elected with a majority in Parliament on Thursday I fear for the future of local services like libraries, children’s centres and parks. The financial strain on councils is so great that without a new funding deal and a new way to fund care for elderly (which councils are currently responsible for funding) many will have no choice but to sell off public assets like libraries, parks and leisure centres or close them completely. It’s no exaggeration to say that for many councils across England financial pressures are at breaking point.
We know from experience over the last decade of austerity that local public services, services provided by councils and local schools have all suffered from severe funding cuts. In Nottingham the council’s main funding grant from Government has been cut by over £100 million per year and our schools have lost out on £71million.
The result of these unprecedented funding reductions is reduced services or in some cases services ending, rising council taxes and increased local charges. Councils up and down the country find themselves in a similar position, although it’s true to say that councils in poorer parts of the country have been targeted for bigger cuts in recent years.
Councils are currently responsible for funding care for the elderly and funding children in care services. Protecting vulnerable children and delivering care services to elderly, vulnerable and disabled people are now by far the biggest area of spending for councils and demand and therefore costs are continuing to rise. Council tax increases have been forced onto households in an attempt by councils to make up some of the Government funding cuts, but the truth is that additional council tax income goes nowhere near the level of Government funding reductions.
People know all too well that homelessness and rough sleeping have increased, that spending on highways maintenance has reduced, that local policing has been decimated, that more children are being raised in poverty and that as our population gets older more elderly people require care at home or residential care. Councils and council employees are on the front line every day focussed on these very issues. I fear that another 5 years of a Conservative Government won’t deliver the reform and new funding that councils need to function. More cuts, more austerity and more pain for local communities is not the way to deal with the very real challenges our country faces.
Cllr Sam Webster
Portfolio Holder for Finance at Nottingham City Council