Four in five counties not confident of setting a balanced budget next year
The County Councils Network (CCN) has released the results of a survey, which found that just one in five counties are confident of setting a balanced budget next year without dramatic reductions to frontline services.
Just 22% of member councils said they were confident of setting a balanced budget for the 2021/22, and only one council said it was confident in 2022/23.
Over half of respondents (56%) said service reductions would impact their efforts to tackle Coronavirus, with 60% stating that it will lead to a ‘fundamental reduction’ in frontline services.
The results are likely to have a severe impact on services provided for children and adults.
Just one council said they would be able to invest in adult social care over the next two years if extra funding was not made available.
Over half (56%) said they were planning to reduce access to care packages and/or introduce new charges for services ‘moderately or severely’. As a result, almost half (46%) said it would mean less people would be able to access council-arranged care packages and 65% said it will lead to more demand on the NHS.
According to the CCN, there is less scope to reduce services in children’s social services, due to all councils seeing a rise in vulnerable children. However, 27% of councils said they will have to implement moderate or severe reductions to services for children in council care and subject to safeguarding, and 33% are planning the same severity of reductions to early years and youth services. Three-quarters (75%) of councils say these reductions to preventative children’s services will lead to more costs in future years.
The survey was carried out in October and received a 100% response rate of members of the organisation.
The results were released ahead of the Spending Review later this month, showing the extent to which councils face hugely difficult decisions next year without any extra funding.
CCN says that it shows a failure to provide more funding for councils could result in local authorities implementing ‘visible and damaging changes’ to frontline services next year to balance their budgets, and could hamper their efforts to continue to tackle the spread of Coronavirus.
The survey asked member councils how confident they were of delivering a balanced budget without dramatic service reductions to services, if no extra funding was made available in the Spending Review, and an 'income guarantee' for lost council tax and business rates was not forthcoming.
Respondents said that Coronavirus has played a huge part in this, with county authorities projected to lose hundreds of millions in lost income from council tax and business rates due to the pandemic. CCN estimates this could be as high as £800m next year.
Cllr David Williams, chairman of the County Councils Network, said: “Over the past decade, councils have done all they can to protect frontline services, transforming their organisations so they are more efficient. But as this survey shows, we are quickly running out of ways to meet the funding shortfall without dramatic reductions which will make visible and damaging changes to highly-valued services.
“The financial support provided by government over the past year has been very welcome. But even before the onslaught of a second wave, councils were facing difficult choices and they are now left with little room to manoeuvre over the coming months as they face further escalating costs resulting in an immediate cliff-edge next year.”