A joint open letter to Eric Pickles talks of the axing of swaths of services currently provided by local authorities
Political leaders of seven of England’s biggest cities, representing nearly 4 million people, have warned of a “looming financial crisis” for councils that will result over the next five years in the axing of swaths of services currently provided by local authorities.
In a joint open letter to communities secretary Eric Pickles, published on Wednesday ahead of the announcement of the next tranche of local government funding, the leaders of Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester local authorities say the scale of anticipated cuts imposed by ministers mean “vital services” will no longer be able to be protected.
It warns that if current government spending plans are not changed “there will be no money for anything else but social care and waste collection” by the end of the decade.
The councils between them have made over £1bn of cuts in the past two years, and shed thousands of jobs, the letter says. Over the next five years they anticipate having to make up a revenue shortfall of a further £1bn.
The letter states: “To be clear from the outset, none of us is under any illusion about the need for spending reductions and the potential for efficiency savings. But the cuts we are now being asked to make in the years ahead will go far beyond the level at which we can protect vital local services.
“Many non-statutory services that improve the quality of life and provide real economic value are already at risk of disappearing in the next two years as we try to prioritise statutory services for the most vulnerable.”
It adds: “Combined with unprecedented spending pressures, particularly in the social care services, the cuts we now anticipate will leave us unable to provide anything like the range or quality of public services we believe our citizens have a right to expect.”
The seven signatories are all leaders of Labour-controlled councils – the eighth member of the “core city” group, Bristol, is run by an independent elected mayor, George Ferguson. The core cities group represents the eight most economically important cities outside London.
Conservative politicians have also publicly complained about the level of cuts. The Tory leader of Kent county council, Paul Carter, warned last week his organisation was “running on empty” while the Conservative leader of the Local Government Association, Merrick Cockell, has called the cuts “unsustainable”.
Last week, one of the signatories of the letter, Liverpool council leader Joe Anderson, predicted the scale of the cuts would spark riots in the streets. Another signatory, the leader of Birmingham city council, Sir Albert Bore said in October that the council expects to see almost half its £1.2bn budget lost to cuts by 2017, prompting him to declare “the end of local government as we know it.”
Councils fear that trajectory of government spending cuts means they will have to “decommission” entire services considered to be non-core, including libraries, arts, leisure facilities, youth services and after-school clubs, while core services so far largely protected from cuts, such as care of older people and child protection, will start to feel the pinch.
Newcastle city council came under fire this week after it announced that it was cutting its entire £2.5m arts funding programme as part of a wider plan to address a £90m shortfall in government funding over the three years to 2016, equivalent to 34% of its current budget.
Pickles, who this week dismissed library closure protesters as “luvvies”, urged councils at the weekend to do more to save cash by procuring goods more cheaply, outsourcing back office services, and dipping into financial reserves.
The financial settlement, which will be unveiled by Pickles on Wednesday, sets out in detail how much cash English councils will receive in grants from central government in 2013-14, enabling them to draw up budgets to present to the public in February and March. The lateness of the announcement – normally made in early December – has proved an added worry for councils.
The chancellor’s autumn statement earlier this month announced that local government would be exempted from a 1% funding cut applied to other government departments in 2013-14. But it will see a further 2% cut in 2014-15, and senior civil servants have indicated that the comprehensive spending review next year will see local government continue to take a large share of overall spending reductions.
A spokesman for Bristol city council said it was anticipating having to make £6m cuts in 2013-14, equivalent to 10% of its current budget. It had already made cuts of £55m over the past two years.