Masses of vital council services to close!

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Demonstration against council cuts outside the Guildhall in Cambridge
Demonstration against council cuts outside the Guildhall in Cambridge

LOCAL services including leisure facilities, children’s centres and pothole repairs will be slashed due to funding cuts over the next two years, a survey of councils’ financial strategies suggests.

Following £10 billion worth of cuts in the past three years many councils are reaching ‘the end of the road’ for saving money through becoming more efficient, said the Local Government Association (LGA) on Monday.

The results of its survey suggest that the impact of cuts will become increasingly visible over the next two years, as councils face a further £10 billion cut in government funding. In many areas councils are on the verge of a ‘tipping point’ where they will not have enough money to meet all their statutory responsibilities, said the body.

Government funding given to councils to run local services will have been cut by 40 per cent by May 2015. LGA modelling, which factors in reduced funding and rising demand for adult social care, shows that money available to provide services like gyms, parks, libraries and youth centres is likely to shrink by 66 per cent by the end of the decade.

The LGA surveyed councils in England about their strategies for dealing with the next round of cuts. The results, set out in the Under Pressure report, provide a snapshot of the financial health of local government and show that:

• 2015/16 is the year in which three in five councils say there are no efficiencies left to be made or efficiencies alone will not be enough to tackle that year’s cuts.

• Only one in five councils believes next year’s cuts can be covered by efficiency savings alone.

• Two in five councils will be raising more income through fees and charges including increasing charges for discretionary services like leisure centres to a level where they are ‘self-funding’.

• Almost half of councils (48 per cent) are set to use money set aside in reserves as a ‘short-term fix’.

These one-off pots of money are meant to be set aside for dealing with emergencies, such as floods and major infrastructure projects.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Vice-Chairman of the LGA, said: ‘Faced with the biggest cuts in living memory, councils have restructured and shared services where it has been possible and have made the most efficient part of the public sector even more efficient.

‘However, efficiency savings cannot be remade and we are now reaching the end of the road. Local authorities have strived to shield residents from the impact of cuts, but with another £20 billion worth of savings to be found, we’re approaching a tipping point where options are fast running out.

‘The next two years will be the toughest yet for those who use and rely upon the popular local services councils provide. Many councils are likely to need to spend reserves set aside for emergencies and long-term investments just to balance the books over the next two years.

‘This short-term fix will delay the impact of looming cuts, but it will store up further difficulties in the long-term as reserves run dry.’

The LGA invited councils to share details about their financial planning for the rest of this parliament in late 2013. A total of 73 English local authorities responded.

Over the past three years councils have dealt with a £10 billion cut in funding from central government through measures including:

At least 95 per cent of English councils have now engaged in some form of ‘shared service’ delivery as a result of the cuts. The local government paybill has also been cut by more than £1.4 billion since 2010.

The LGA’s findings echo the findings of The Bookseller earlier in the year, which found campaigners warning of a ‘state of emergency’ in the library service. Laura Swaffield, chair of the Library Campaign, said: ‘We could reach a tipping point before the end of the year where we have lost a level of service that we will never be able to get back.’

Meanwhile, figures show the most deprived communities have suffered most from local government cuts while more affluent areas are escaping relatively un-scathed.

An analysis of official figures by Paul Woods, Newcastle city council treasurer, showed councils in the 10 most deprived areas of England faced average cuts of 25.3% from the financial years 2010-11 to 2015-16, compared with 2.54% in the 10 least deprived areas.

Councils will start to fail their local communities if action is not taken to make their finances more stable, the LGA warned.

In its submission to the government in the run up to the spending review, the LGA said up to 86 councils will reach a ‘tipping point’ and will be at risk of failing to meet their statutory obligations.

With the expected cuts, these councils’ estimated income will be less than 85% of their projected spend in 2015/16 and they face financial failures. In response to the LGA survey, a Unison spokesman told News Line on Monday: ‘Local government is in the eye of the storm. This government is doing all it can to destroy local government and local democracy in the name of paying down the deficit.

‘Local government will soon be unable to meet its statutory responsiblities. The Tories won’t change their tune, so we need to change the government. It’s the Tory government that is cutting money right left and centre from services and they need to be punished at the ballot box.

‘There is a Tory government aided and abetted by theLibDems that is cutting services at the same time as it’s giving huge tax breaks to the very rich. Today we heard that Britain has more billionaires per capita than any other country.

‘Those billionaires have seen their wealth increase by £56 billion over the past year, mostly because of the cuts in the tax rate from 50p to 45p. The government should reverse that and make sure that the money raised goes to fund local services and our NHS.’

• Occupational therapists (OTs) at Greenwich council, fed up with an alleged ‘bullying culture’, have voted unanimously for strike action on Wednesday 21 May. The therapists, members of Unite, will strike for 24 hours, with the focus of the action being at the Woolwich Centre, 35 Wellington Street, London SE18 6HQ.

The therapists voted by 100 per cent for strike action over alleged bullying, harassment and the suspension of a work colleague accused of being too friendly with staff.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: ‘I am extremely proud of the Unite members who have voted to stand up against “a bullying culture”. We have given the employer every opportunity to deal with the bullying – but it has failed to tackle this issue.

‘Even worse, it has victimised the whistleblowers, leading to the suspension on ludicrous charges of one of our members. We have designated Wednesday 21 May as a day of action against bullying and harassment in the borough. However, Unite’s door remains open for constructive talks to resolve this dispute.’

• There was a protest at Wiltshire Council yesterday over Balfour Beatty’s refusal to recognise the GMB as the union representing 300 workers on council contracts.

Councillors were asked to support the motion by Councillor Jeff Osborn, as Balfour Beatty has anti-union form as being one of the biggest blacklisters, said the GMB.

Balfour Beatty Living Places are refusing to recognise GMB on the £25m Wiltshire Council contract to maintain roads, street cleaning and lighting and grass cutting across the county.

300 staff employed on the contract were TUPE transferred in June 2013 to Balfour Beatty Living Places from Wiltshire Council and a previous contractor English Landscapes.

On Tuesday 13th May Independent Councillor Jeff Osborn tabled a motion to the full council which said: ‘In the tendering of any future contracts provided by the council a clear condition should be made that the council will only enter into a contract with organisations that make a clear and public commitment that they fully recognise Trade Union rights for their employees and will continue to do so.’

On Monday, Carole Vallelley, GMB Regional Organiser, said: ‘GMB will be handing out leaflets to councillors explaining the disgraceful anti-trade union behaviour by Balfour Beatty and asking them to support this motion tabled by Councillor Jeff Osborn.

‘Balfour Beatty has form when it comes to being anti- union. They were one of the biggest blacklisters.

‘The defence on blacklisting filed in the High Court last autumn by Sir Robert McAlpine shows that Balfour Beatty placed 302 workers’ names on the construction blacklist – 27.3% of the total identified – and refused work to 187 workers – which was 31.4% of those refused work.

‘Balfour Beatty went back on assurances given in pre-contract talks that collective bargaining rights would continue. Balfour Beatty is a “middleman” working for the council and they must be told by the council that this action is simply not acceptable.’