Counting the cost of austerity for councils and communities
The Austerity Audit, published today by UNISON details the damage caused by the unprecedented squeeze on funding that has had such a dramatic impact on local council services in England and the people that provide them.
The government has already cut the funding to local councils by £12.5bn or 37% since May 2010 – the equivalent of £232 for every person in the country. It calls into question the Prime Minister’s claim that just £1 in every £100 spent by government departments over the next two years would be cut under Tory spending plans.
In this year’s Budget, the Chancellor said that spending by government departments would fall from £338.6bn this year to £323.8bn in 2016/17 and £312bn in 2017/18. UNISON says that using basic maths this works out to be a much harsher cut of £4 in every £100 next year, and £3.50 the year after.
The Austerity Audit starts by looking at the big picture, how much has gone, the budget pressures that local councils face and how they have responded to financial challenges that dwarf the cuts faced by councils in the Thatcher era when the shift to block grant allowed the government to impose penalties on councils that exceeded government expenditure targets, rate-capping and the hated poll tax.
Some communities have seen some of their local services disappear completely. By the end of 2014 467 libraries, 361 police stations, 578 children’s centres, 33 fire stations, over 300 youth centres, 10 museums and many swimming pools and public toilets had all closed. One in five streetlights is now turned off or dimmed at night.
Sir Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General at the National Audit Office, has warned that government ministers didn’t fully understand the implications of their actions and were making irresponsible decisions.
“If you’re going to do radical surgery it would be nice if you knew where the heart was. You’re slightly more likely not to stick a knife in it by mistake.”
Over 5,000 (one in five) jobs have gone in local libraries, over 1,500 (more than half) trading standards officer posts have disappeared and 2,000 youth workers have been lost. One in four (4,430) police and community support officers have been lost.
Council and school employees have paid a heavy personal price under austerity as well, forfeiting £8.6bn as their pay has fallen in real terms every year since 2010. This affects a huge number of UK households, who simply won’t recognise the claim made by the Chancellor in his last Budget speech that:
“Households on average will be around £900 better off in 2015 than they were in 2010.”
The changes so far have been dramatic, and we believe our local communities will be unrecognisable by 2020 if the approach over the last parliament should continue into the next. Local government desperately needs some respite from the austerity axe.