Council funding freeze ‘means cuts to many essential services’

A senior Conservative peer has warned that councils will need to slash a range of essential services after ministers released a funding settlement for councils that offered no additional money during 2017/18.

Gary Porter, who chairs the Local Government Association, said authorities would have to cut back on filling potholes, collecting waste, maintaining parks and running children’s centres and libraries in order to plug growing funding gaps.

He expressed “huge disappointment” about the decision not to increase funding, warning that while councils would impose tax rises, the money would not be enough to prevent services, including social care, from being hit.

“Councils, the NHS, charities and care providers remain united around the desperate need for new government funding for social care,” said Lord Porter. “By continuing to ignore these warnings, social care remains in crisis and councils and the NHS continue to be pushed to the financial brink.”

The head of the body representing hundreds of councils across England and Wales was responding to the Local Government Finance Settlement, published late on Monday without any notification to the media.

He said that council tax rises were inevitable because of funding constraints but said that wasn’t enough because the extra revenue was being swallowed up to pay for the government’s “national living wage”.

“Social care faces a funding gap of at least £2.6bn by 2020,” he said. “It cannot be left to council taxpayers alone to try and fix this.”

Porter urged ministers not to ignore the issue, which caused anger when it was not addressed during the autumn statement. He said he hoped next month’s budget would take “urgent steps” to help the situation.

“New government money for social care is urgently needed,” he said. “Without this, our most vulnerable continue to face an ever uncertain future where they might no longer receive the dignified care and support they deserve, such as help getting dressed or getting out and about, which is crucial to their independence and wellbeing.”

Porter added there was an even bigger funding gap of £5.8bn by 2020 for councils overall, and said less essential services such as potholes, parks, leisure centres and libraries would inevitably be hit.

Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, set out the settlement in a written statement to parliament in which he highlighted the high cost of councils. He also said the settlement was the second in a four-year offer that had been accepted by the vast majority of councils.

“As we continue to bring the deficit down, local government, which still accounts for nearly a quarter of public spending despite the savings delivered since 2010, must continue to play its part,” he wrote.

“At the same time, local residents rightly continue to expect excellent public services. I commend all councils for how they are getting on with the job. Public satisfaction with local services has been maintained, and councils are engaged in substantial efforts to modernise, transform local services and reduce waste so that frontline services can be protected.”

Javid argued that part of the shift was towards “funding reforms to make councils more self-sufficient”. He said the government had listened to the “unanimous view” that social care must be priorities, and cited an extra £3.5bn funding by 2019/20.

“Recognising the immediate challenges in the care market facing many councils next year, this settlement repurposes £240m of money which was previously directed to local authorities via the New Homes Bonus to create a new adult social care support grant next year. It also grants councils extra flexibility to raise the adult social care precept by up to 3% next year and the year after,” he added. But he argued that “more money is not the only answer”, highlighting a push to integrate social care and health services better.