Residents face tax rises and service cuts as councils feel squeeze


Residents face rising council tax bills and more cuts to services as local authorities are pushed "closer to the financial edge" by the Government's spending squeeze.

Many English councils say they have been hit by worse-than-expected funding reductions from the Government - leaving some facing multi-million pound budget shortfalls for the coming year.

The scale will become clear in the coming weeks as councils meet to agree their budgets for 2016/2017, but already many are warning they will have to put up council tax by close to 4% and deliver further cuts to services.

Services ranging from children's centres, short breaks for disabled children and bus subsidies to funding for theatres, museums, community gyms and projects encouraging people to stop smoking and preventing domestic violence are under threat.

Local authorities across England are also considering putting council tax up by the maximum level permitted of 3.99% including an adult social care premium, which would see bills go up by £47 a year for a Band D home in some parts of the country.

Other charges, from garden waste collections to bereavement services, are also set to rise in some areas.

And a study by the GMB union union found that over 25,000 jobs are under threat because of cuts to services, including 3,000 in Glasgow, 1,800 in flood-hit Cumbria and 1,200 in Birmingham.

A radical shake-up in the way the Government is allocating its revenue support grant for councils, which is being phased out by the end of the decade, has left many councils facing deeper cuts than they expected in 2016/2017.

Town hall leaders have sought meetings with ministers and written to the Prime Minister and Chancellor warning them of the impact of the cuts, with some saying they face not being able to meet their legal duties or be "viable" as councils. 

The Local Government Association's vice chairwoman Sharon Taylor said: "Councils have been planning for further funding cuts in 2016/2017 but some will have to find millions of pounds more in savings than they had planned for in even their worst case scenarios.

"For some councils, this might push them closer to the financial edge.

"It will be our residents who suffer as councils are forced to take tough decisions about which services have to be scaled back or stopped altogether to plug funding gaps over the next few years." 

Some of the situations faced by councils include:

: : Manchester City Council faces an £18.7 million shortfall. It is considering putting up council tax by 3.99%, or £31.18 extra on a Band A property, and will have to make savings of £13.8 million;

:: Derbyshire County Council faces cuts of almost £70 million over two years, with up to 32 children's centres facing closure and proposals to reduce or cut all funding for short breaks for disabled children and cutting money available for some school transport. The council is also considering a 3.99% increase in tax, which would add £34.77 to a Band B property bill;

:: Buckinghamshire County Council will see its grant reduced from £60.8 million in 2013/2014 to zero in 2018/2019, with significant reductions in most services, children's centre closures, and an inability to support housing growth and provide roads and schools.

:: Southend-on-Sea Borough Council faces cuts of £8.43 million in government funding in 2016/2017. Along with a council tax rise of £47 a year for Band D homes, its plans include increasing bereavement service charges, not filling three stop smoking vacancies and not commissioning projects including a domestic abuse schools prevention scheme;

:: Medway Council is set to lose £12 million of support, a 30% cut on last year, and is proposing increasing council tax by £47 a year for a Band D home. Council leader Alan Jarrett warns government spending cuts are "backing local authorities into a corner".

:: East Lindsey District Council faces delivering £6 million in savings by 2019/2020, with plans including reviewing funding for markets, bowling greens and paddling pools, increasing green waste collection charges, introducing overnight parking charges and reducing public toilet provision. 

The reduction in the revenue support grant comes at the same time as councils face increased costs from the new "national living wage", reductions to funding they receive for building new homes and the pressures of an ageing population.

Some 15 district councils will see their central government grant withdrawn next year (2017/2018): Bromsgrove; Chiltern; East Dorset; Elmbridge; Epsom and Ewell; Maidstone; Mole Valley; North Hertfordshire; Reigate and Banstead; Sevenoaks; Spelthorne; Surrey Heath; Tandridge; Tonbridge and Malling and Woking. 

By 2019/2020 168 local authorities will have lost all their government grant, and some, including Redditch Borough Council, warn that they will have to contribute funds back to the Government.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Council tax bills will be less in real terms at the end of this parliament than they were in 2010. This government is providing a long-term funding settlement for the first time allowing local authorities to plan with certainty.

"Councils will have almost £200 billion to spend on local services, including a £3.5 billion social care package, over the lifetime of this parliament."