UK councils braced for ‘second wave’

By Rob O’Brien

UK councils should prepare for a worsening social impact from the ‘second wave’ of the recession, a public sector watchdog has warned.

Local and national government have made a positive initial response to the recession, according to the Audit Commission report, but councils should prepare for the ‘second wave’ – a worsening social impact as unemployment rises.

Demand for benefits, welfare and help with debt are growing, and social problems such as domestic violence and mental ill-health are expected to follow as the recession deepens, the report said.
Audit Commission Chief Executive Steve Bundred said local government had reacted quickly to the recession in supporting their local economies, but added that "councils need to move from being reactive to proactive, and prepare to combat a wide range of resultant social problems”.
The new national report When it comes to the crunch… also describes a longer-term ‘third wave’ of recession, which would see most areas bounce back while others continue to flounder.
“When it comes to the crunch, those with sound plans focused on local issues, and delivered in partnership, will stand the best chance,” Bundred said.
The report by the Audit Commission is the second in a series of national reports on how local authorities are responding to the recession.

The first, Crunch Time?, published last December, looked at the impact on local government finances.

The latest report exposes the broader impact on councils, on their services, and on the communities they serve.
  • Most councils face extra demand for benefits, welfare and debt counselling;
  • One in three already has extra pressure on school places, social care and mental health services, and almost all are anticipating these; and
  • Although the private sector is hardest-hit, redundancies have already begun in nearly half of district councils and a third of all others.
The report states that while it is too early to say which government initiatives will prove to be the most effective, too few national schemes make the most of councils’ grass roots local knowledge.

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