Liverpool has seen a 32% fall in council spending since 2009 according to Centre for Cities’ latest report, prompting Mayor Joe Anderson to call for “an end to ministerial indifference” as North West cities bear the brunt of austerity funding cuts.
Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook 2019 report shows that of all cities, Liverpool saw the biggest drop in local government spending per head in Britain, at £441m, equating to an £816 fall in day-to-day council spending per person.
The report also found that the North West’s nine cities have received an average 18% reduction to their budgets over the past decade, equivalent to £350 less for each person living in them.
Centre for Cities highlights that “they were collectively dealt 77% of all local government austerity cuts to the region, despite being home to 67% of the population”.
Blackburn and Burnley saw the North West’s second and third highest reductions in day-to-day council spending after Liverpool, while Blackpool and Preston saw the smallest reduction.
Anderson said: “This report confirms what I’ve been saying for years. We’ve not been asking for special treatment – just fairness. If we’d have had the average cut of other councils we’d be £80m better off.
“The Government is turning a blind eye to the reality of what is happening to local authorities, in particular the poorest. We are limited in the amount we can bring in from council tax because Government has restricted rises and most of our properties are small terraces. For instance, we get £174m in Council Tax and we spend £172m on adult social care – it doesn’t take a mathematician to see that this isn’t sustainable.
“Government urgently needs to revisit its plans for the funding formula and try and come up with one that is genuinely fair to everybody across the country. Only by doing so can places like Liverpool actually meet its needs and requirements to help those most in need.
“We also need more freedoms and loosening of the Whitehall purse strings so we can return to an era where councils devised their own practical solutions to problems, so we aren’t waiting for an end to ministerial indifference.”
Fairer funding means more funding
Centre for Cities argues that while North West’s cities have been able to make do with less by becoming more efficient, reductions in funding and the increase in demand for social care have meant cuts to other services. Spending on public conveniences such as toilets has fallen by 66% over the past decade, while spending on arts development and support has dropped by 43%, and library services by 36%.
Blackpool’s relatively light budget cuts are likely to be because a significant portion of its budget is dedicated to social care, on which spending has been protected.
While the report highlights that London received huge cuts, equating to 30% of all local government spending, other southern cities were less badly hit and also had more chances of increasing income through setting charges for services. Oxford and Luton saw an increase in spending.
Andrew Carter, Centre for Cities chief executive, said: “Cities drive the North West’s economy and, while austerity has improved local government efficiency, its sheer scale has placed public services in the North West’s cities under huge pressure. Cities Outlook 2019 shows that the cities most affected are economically weaker and have been less able to absorb the loss of central government funding.
“Councils have managed as best they can but the continued singling-out of local government for cuts cannot continue. There is a very real risk that many of our largest councils will in the near future become little more than social care providers. Fairer funding must mean more funding for cities in the North West.
“If, as the Prime Minister has said, austerity is coming to an end then the Spending Review must address the financial challenges facing the North West’s cities. But this does not just mean more money. Giving local authorities more power to decide how they raise and spend funds, providing more flexible multi-year budgets and reforming the way social care is paid for also need to be urgently introduced.”
- Read the full Cities Outlook 2019 report here: https://www.centreforcities.org/publication/cities-outlook-2019/
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