Hundreds of councillors and council leaders gathered in Birmingham last week to discuss the big issues facing local government. But it while the sun was shining bright there was a destiny dark cloud over head.
We’ve become used to hearing of the dramatic and disproportionate cuts affecting local government. We’ve seen in every community – though some much more than others – the real impact as basic services have been reduced, facilities lost and a fire sale on land and property.
Income from the disposal of assets jumped from £1.2bn in 2008/09 to £3.2bn by 2016/17, in fact almost as much was raised in the final quarter of that year than the whole of 2008.
Local government has also seen a staggering 811,000 jobs lost while at the same time central government has seen an increased workforce.
But whatever has gone might fill Local Government leaders with sadness, what is coming down the line is enough to fill them, and all of us with any understanding of public services, with fear.
The Local Government Association issued a stark warning in its usually measured way, underpinned by facts and critical analysis. They highlight a breath-taking jump in the current funding gap of £2.6bn to £7.8bn by 2025.
This doesn’t include any rebuilding of frontline services lost as a result of the £16bn cut in funding; that would be an eye-watering £23.8bn – more than the £20bn announced to “save the NHS”.
Demand on children’s services has been hit hard with 500 child protection investigations every day. Although local government have much less to spend, overall children’s service spending has increased from £5.9bn in 2008/09 to a forecast £15.4bn by 2025, already running at £11.6bn.
Adult social care spend, despite an estimated 1.5m older people not receiving the care they would have previously been entitled to, has jumped from £14.bn a decade ago to a forecast £22.2bn by 2025.
In the last six months alone over 8,000 people have been affected by care home providers collapsing or withdrawing from contracts because of the squeeze.
That’s before the 77,000 families stuck in temporary accommodation including 120,000 children.
This paints a picture of a system ready to fall over. Not just individual councils failing to balance the books, but a whole system failure where a legal challenge to entitlement or new pressure such as the recent increase in National Minimum Wage and National Insurance will be the final straw.
At that point questions will be asked who was to blame. That is clear. Local government has done everything asked of it and more, it has taken on a disproportionate burden of cuts through austerity and it has raised every year the crisis coming down the line.
It has been central government with a string of toothless Secretaries of State and a Treasury indifferent to the human crisis developing where blame is due.
They ignore what could be a final warning at their peril.
This article was originally published by the Times Red Box:
All 2008/09 figures from DCLG revenue outturn data.
I have a different reduction in workforce number than the LGA have used. I have kept with the ONS official workforce data.