Councils in England will lose an average of 4.4% in revenue due to Whitehall cuts next year, the government has announced, leading to fears for the future of social work services. Communities secretary Eric Pickles (pictured) told MPs that no authority would see its spending power cut by more than 9%.
Responding to expectations that councils in northern England would be worst hit, Pickles said: “The reality is that, despite the toughest economic circumstances in recent memory, the coalition government will ensure that next year the average reduction in councils’ spending power will be 4.4%.
“By adopting an intelligent and fair approach to the way funding is allocated, we have been able to ensure those parts of the country that are most reliant on central funding continue to get the lion’s share of the taxpayers’ money that is available. Funding fairness underpins this settlement.”
The government has chosen to couch the cuts in terms of the overall impact on council budgets, rather than simply the reduction in government grants. The overall figure includes income from council tax, charges and money due to transfer from the NHS to councils next year to fund adult social care. The government’s overall grant to councils – formula grant – is due to fall by 9.9% next year.
Pickles insisted new financial freedoms for councils would limit the impact of the cuts, allowing them to choose local priorities.
Local government experts had forecast that shire counties and councils in the South would be spared the worst of the cuts, while metropolitan and unitary councils in the North – widely regarded as the biggest beneficiaries of the Labour government’s funding settlements – would be hit hardest.
Manchester, Rochdale, Knowsley, Liverpool, Newham and Tower Hamlets councils – all based in relatively deprived areas – are among those facing the maximum 8.9% cut in spending power next financial year. The government has created a transition grant to limit the anticipated scale of the cuts.
Find out your council’s grant cuts here.
Unions warned that cuts would inevitably hit frontline services and local government staff.
“Eric Pickles may talk about local authorities doing more with less, but the public should not be fooled; this is not possible,” said Heather Wakefield, Unison’s head of local government.
“Cuts on this scale cannot be painless. Vital local services, such as libraries and day centres, are already shutting their doors. Charges for others, such as home care for the elderly and meals-on-wheels, are on the up. After today’s announcement, this pattern will only gather pace.”
Liverpool Council today announced that half of its top managers would be axed to save £4.5m a year.
As part of its restructuring, the role of director of children, family and adult services, which oversaw a combined budget of £740m, would be split into two.
Council leader Joe Anderson, a former social worker, said: “The city council has suffered from a top-heavy, bloated senior management set-up, weighted down with too much paperwork, form-filling and box-ticking.
“These radical changes mean we will have a much leaner, more efficient team of managers who will be 100% focused on delivering the council’s priorities – reducing waste and bureaucracy and making sure that, despite the cuts, we continue to deliver excellent services that meet today’s demands and the needs of our residents.”
The maximum salary of directors will be £140,000 – £20,000 down on the previous level – while the number of senior management posts would fall to 43 from 91.
Among those widely expected to lose cash is Blackburn with Darwen Council, whose chief executive Graham Burgess predicted in October that its funding would be cut by 30% over the next four years.
“These front-loaded cuts mean the reductions will be bigger and come much faster than expected,” Burgess said. “While we are looking at a number of opportunities for staff, such as voluntary redundancies and early retirements as well as deleting vacant posts, it is unlikely we will be able to avoid compulsory redundancies given these are very difficult times we face.”
Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of Turning Point, the social enterprise working with people with drug and alcohol problems or mental health issues, said: “We are yet to find out in detail how these proposed cuts to local government budgets will manifest themselves, but it would be naïve to think they will have no effect on frontline services whatsoever.
“Social care services are under particular threat as the majority of their funding is allocated by local authorities. It is also worth considering that health and social care are inextricably linked and that, if councils make substantial cuts to their social care budgets, it is likely to be the NHS that will pick up the bill.”
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