Austerity will ‘make history’ of popular services

By Cassie Chambers

Action must be taken now to ensure austerity cuts do not cause local services to disappear, according to a report out today.

The study, conducted by the Local Government Association (LGA), claims that decreased funding from the national government will be a major factor contributing to a £16.5 billion budget shortfall for local councils by the year 2020.

Assessing the increasing gap between the money councils need and the funds they have available, Sir Merrick Cockell, LGA Chairman, said: "The lines on the charts in this report are the converging train tracks that will carry the most immediate and popular public services into history unless the passengers – government, councils and the voters – draw a new map for organising and funding local public service, and draw it now."

The report also emphasised the role of adult care in creating the financial strain to come. According to the LGA study, spending on such care will consume over 45% of local council budgets by 2019/20.

A recent YouGov poll showed that only a small segment of the population utilize this expensive service, with only 11% of respondents claiming to have had any experience with adult social care.

This number is in contrast to 39% of respondents who had used a library in the past year and 27% who had visited a council-run leisure facility.

Commenting on the adult care "crisis", Sir Merrick stressed that efficiency savings won't be enough to make up for the budget shortfall.

Instead, he called for "an immediate injection of money into the adult care system to meet rising demand in the short term, alongside a major revision of the way it is paid for and delivered in future".

In order to maintain local council services at their current levels, the report suggests using an integrated community budgets model to coordinate services across government. This model has recently been applied in the government's troubled families program.

LGA says this type of coordinated approach "can dramatically lower costs and improve results".

In addition to increased uptake of the community budgets approach, the report also calls for increased clarity about how costs are shared between different levels of government and a simpler legal framework to improve the accessibility of public services.