UK: Poll paints bleak future for local government

By Rob O'Brien

Local government in the UK is facing severe job and spending cuts as the country heads towards a general election in May, according to a survey conducted by the BBC.

The survey, sent to 150 chief executives of regional and urban councils, suggested a majority expected to make significant spending cuts over the next three-to-five years.

More than 70 per cent of councils in England predicted spending cuts of between 5 per cent and 20 per cent.

In a report released by the government, entitled Putting the Frontline First: Meeting the Local Government Challenge, a series of "ten decisive steps" were highlighted for councils to help them protect frontline services in an era of tighter public finances.

These include creating customer focused 'Total Place' councils cutting out waste and duplication, sharing back office roles like HR and IT, reducing the number of municipal buildings and having a chief executive that manages more than one public body.

Communities secretary John Denham said: "Councils have some tough choices in the next few years as things become tighter. But that is no reason to lower their sights on service quality people rightly value.

“Government is working hard to make sure councils have explored every possible option before resorting to wholesale budget cuts that will affect frontline services and jobs.

“Local people will rightly be intolerant if they are told that front line services will be cut because their council hasn't done everything suggested on this checklist. If councils adopt our radical efficiency reforms they can protect our top priority frontline services which matter most to local people."

Margaret Eaton, chairman of the Local Government Association, said that councils faced a future of “having to do more with less”.

“Whoever wins the next election, local authorities and other parts of the public sector know they face the prospect of having to do more with less. A spending slowdown will inevitably mean tough decisions have to be taken, but councils will do everything they can to protect frontline services.

“In tough financial times, democratically elected councils have a vital role to play to ensure that people still get the services they demand and deserve. Countless organisations are involved in delivering services to local areas, and there is scope to make big savings in public spending without affecting the frontline.

However she added that councils were being hit by a perfect storm caused by the UK recession, with a sharp decline in sources of income.

“Local government is feeling the effect of recession in exactly the same way as hard pressed homeowners and families. Low interest rates mean councils are much less able to rely on their savings, plummeting house and land prices have hit hard and income from leisure centres and a range of other services has fallen.

“Town halls have been swept by the cold winds of recession for more than a year and that means difficult choices have to be made. Up and down the country many councils feel they have to take the decision to cut jobs in response.”


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