The huge spending cuts proposed by the Conservatives could see many council-run services in England disappear by the end of the next parliament, according to a report by UNISON published today (Wednesday).
The new report, An Austerity Audit, says that since 2010 coalition cuts have already deprived many communities of popular local facilities like swimming pools and libraries, as well as essential support services like children’s centres and women’s refuges.
An Austerity Audit lays bare the devastating impact that £12.5bn of cuts have had on local communities in England since 2010 – and warns that worse is yet to come if the Conservatives are re-elected.
The research calls into question the Prime Minister’s claim that just £1 in every £100 spent by government departments over the next two years would be cut under Tory spending plans.
In this year’s Budget, the Chancellor said that spending by government departments would fall from £338.6bn this year to £323.8bn in 2016/17, and £312bn in 2017/18. UNISON says that using basic maths this works out to be a much harsher cut of £4 in every £100 next year, and £3.50 the year after.
This £26.6bn* cut in spending by government departments would have dire consequences for local authority services when areas like health and education are protected, says UNISON.
An Austerity Audit says that the government has already cut the funding to English local councils by 37 per cent since May 2010 – the equivalent of £232 for every person in the country.
Under the coalition government some communities have already seen some local services disappear completely – with 578 children’s centres, 467 libraries, 361 police stations, 300 youth centres, 33 fire stations and 10 museums forced to close their doors.
Swimming pools and public toilets in many areas have disappeared, while one in five street lights is now turned off or dimmed at night, says UNISON.
According to An Austerity Audit, more than 15,000 police support staff, 5,000 library staff, 1,500 trading standards officers and 2,000 youth workers are among the casualties of the coalition’s ruthless cuts to local council spending.
This unprecedented squeeze on the funding of local services has come at the same time as councils faced increasing financial pressures elsewhere, says the report.
With England’s population rising and people living longer there has been extra pressure on services – for example the number of children in the care of local councils has increased by nearly 4,500 since 2010.
Similarly, since the last election, the number of homeless families placed in bed and breakfast hotels more than doubled, and the cost of landfill tax that councils must pay the government went up from £48 to £80 a tonne. All of this has put council budgets under severe strain, says An Austerity Audit.
The report also finds that some deprived areas in England have been the hardest hit by spending cuts. While some councils in the north and in inner-London have seen their spending power drop by more than £225 for every resident, some local authorities in the south-east have gained up to £15 per head.
Commenting on the report, UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “Women fleeing domestic violence are being turned away because of a shortage of beds at some refuges, a lack of street lighting is plunging communities into darkness, and children’s centres, libraries, parks, and police stations are just some of the vital services either being scaled back or closed completely.
“As a consequence of council funding cuts, local people are now having to pay more for services such as on-street parking, social care, the registration of births, deaths and marriages, and burials and cremations.
“Such is the extent of the spending cuts in local government that many services are close to disappearing. If the Tories were to form the next government, the savage cuts they propose could well mean the end of many services – like pest control, museums, allotments, youth services and sports centres – that councils are not legally obliged to provide. And many local authorities would struggle to run statutory services like social care and child protection.
“Local communities will be unrecognisable by 2020 if the Conservatives keep the keys to Downing Street. It’s time to give local government some respite from the austerity axe.”
An Austerity Audit shows that since 2010:
- Spending on children’s social care staffing has been cut by £147m, despite the number of children requiring contact by social workers increasing by 10 per cent.
- Almost a third (32 per cent) of local authorities have been forced to shut services for adults with learning disabilities.
- One in five (20 per cent) of councils can no longer provide free home visits for pre-school children with additional needs.
- Between 2010 and 2014, 578 Sure Start children’s centres were closed.
- Library budgets have been cut by £135m since 2010 with 467 libraries closed and visits to libraries down 40 million.
- The fire and rescue service has seen 1,732 support roles cut, with 145 fire engines axed since 2010.
- The number of police officers has fallen by 16,139, with Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) numbers down 4,430 and police staff reduced by 15,500.
- The number of specialist refuge centres for women suffering domestic abuse fell from 187 to 155. Nearly a third of referrals (31 per cent) to refuges were turned away last year because of a lack of space.
- In May 2010, 79,000 streetlights were dimmed, rising to 797,000 by 2014. In areas where the street lights have been turned off, 324 more people have been killed or seriously injured in the past four years.
- Supported bus services – a lifeline for vulnerable people who live in rural areas – have had cuts of £45m. As a result 2,000 bus routes have been cut, altered or withdrawn.
- Between 2012 and 2014, 350 youth centres were closed and 41,000 youth service places for young people cut
- Spending by local councils on theatres has fallen by 11 per cent.
- Money spent on sports and recreation facilities such as leisure centres and swimming pools has dropped by more than £100m.
- There has been a 72.1 per cent fall in the number of trading standards prosecutions, with staffing levels down from 3,500 to less than 2,000.