Council Services At "Tipping Point"

23 November 2015, 06:00

Councils are starting to freeze non-essential services as they reach a "tipping point'' ahead of an expected fresh round of deep spending cuts, new research has revealed.

Councils are starting to freeze non-essential services as they reach a "tipping point'' ahead of an expected fresh round of deep spending cuts, new research has revealed.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been axed in recent years, almost 500 libraries have closed, the backlog of road repairs has soared and a range of services have been cut back.

A survey by the Press Association of local authorities across Britain shows the scale of cuts they are already facing, amid warnings of the impact on services ranging from caring for the elderly and protecting children to bin collection, pothole repairs, street lighting, social work, museums and maintaining parks.

In many cases, residents are now being consulted on which services they want protected as councils prepare to make decisions on where the spending axe needs to fall next.

Many authorities are waiting until the Chancellor delivers the Comprehensive Spending Review on Wednesday, which is expected to include huge cuts in public spending.

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, told the Press Association: "With councils already struggling to keep services running and facing almost #10 billion in additional cost pressures by the end of the decade, it is clear that a similar funding cut again would mean that some councils would have to review how they deliver their statutory duties.

"The ability of councils to provide many of the services people take for granted, like clean and well-lit streets, maintained parks and access to leisure centres, could become significantly impacted.

"Vital services, such as caring for the elderly, protecting children, collecting bins, filling potholes and maintaining our parks and green spaces, could struggle to continue at current levels.''

Proposals already announced by councils include increased charges for burials and cremations, primary school swimming lessons, sharing head teachers in small schools and increasing council tax

The GMB and Unison say thousands of jobs have been cut or are threatened, with groups of staff now being offered voluntary redundancy as councils try to balance the books.

Cheltenham Borough Council said it was addressing funding cuts by sharing services with other neighbouring councils and driving business growth to increase business rates income.

But John Rawson, cabinet member for finance, said: "I am concerned that the leading members of the Government do not really understand the realities of local government and may land us with impossible challenges in future years.

"Efficiency savings cannot go on forever. It is easy for ministers to score easy points by holding forth about town hall red tape, without recognising that local councils run services that are very important to people's wellbeing.''

The Press Association survey revealed the level of savings councils are already grappling with, and the impact on services, even before the Chancellor's announcement on Wednesday.

:: Stirling Council said it faces a ``significant financial challenge'', with spending having to be cut by £25 million over the next five years.

:: South Ayrshire Council has to find £20 million of savings by 2018/19 and is seeking views on sharing head teachers in small schools and increasing charges for burials and cremations.

:: East Renfrewshire Council has a £20 million budget gap over the next three years, saying savings of just over half had been identified without hitting frontline services, but proposals could lead to up to 200 job losses.