From The Guardian: A Conservative MP has said ministers need to urgently “learn the lessons” from the financial collapse of Tory-run Northamptonshire county council if they are to prevent more councils slipping into insolvency.
Andrew Lewer, the MP for Northamptonshire South, said that while mismanagement had fuelled the Northamptonshire crisis, the council was also a victim of underlying financial pressures affecting all local authorities with social care responsibilities.
Lewer’s comments will be seen as a breaking of ranks both with the government and with his six fellow Tory MPs in the county, who have up to now sought to present the council’s problems as unrelated to wider funding issues.
His intervention came as Northamptonshire county councillors prepare to take further steps towards drawing up a drastic cuts plan that they hope will close a £70m black hole in the accounts over the next few months.
From The Guardian: The most high-profile symbol of the cuts in Northamptonshire to date has arguably the county’s 36 libraries, 21 of which the council wants to close or sell. There is popular outrage at this, not least in Northamptonshire’s more well-heeled rural areas, making its Tory MPs nervous. The proposal is being challenged in the courts.
Less well known is that 19 of the 21 libraries under threat host early-years children’s services such as mother-and-baby groups and health visitor sessions. These services were moved into libraries two years ago when an earlier round of cuts closed several SureStart centres. Where these services will go now is unclear.
Northamptonshire’s cuts will be felt in even its leafiest and most prosperous areas. Dig into the council’s cuts plans and you find an axe taken to highways budgets – less pothole filling, winter gritting and traffic light maintenance. The council expects legal challenges to these, too.
From The Independent: A Conservative-led council has taken the unprecedented action of imposing emergency spending controls for the second time in six months after projecting a budget shortfall of up to £70m.
[Read article on Independent website…]
From The Guardian: When Jill White, 53, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, she had three years of treatment, including operations and chemotherapy. It was a stressful enough experience to go through, but White, who is single and doesn’t drive, also faced a four-hour round trip, on a good day, to get to a hospital that was only 13 miles away, because buses from her village of Tatworth, Somerset only run on average every two hours.
“My appointments were often at 9am, so to get to Taunton hospital I would have to leave by 7am,” she says. “And then, even though I would be really tired after treatment, I faced another two-hour trip to get home again. Four hours was a good journey. It could have quite easily been a lot longer.”
White says the service used to be quite good. “When I first moved here 20 years ago, there was a bus every hour, evening, weekend and bank holiday – and they were reasonably punctual. Now they are often 30 minutes late, there are no buses on Sundays or bank holidays – and nothing after 6pm.” White’s situation is far from unique. A report last week by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) found that local authority funding for bus routes in England and Wales has been cut by 45% since 2010 and more than 3,000 routes reduced or scrapped. This prompted the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to raise the bus issue in parliament during last week’s prime minister’s questions, where he promised to “save” the bus industry and give all those aged under 26 free bus travel.
From The Independent: Local councils face a funding gap of £5 billion by 2020 because of “complacent” government ministers’ failure to plan for the future, an influential committee of MPs has warned.
[Read article on Independent website…]
From The Guardian: Campaigners have called for the government to act to help dwindling bus services, as a report showed council funding had almost halved since 2010.
Budgets to subsidise routes were reduced by another £20m last year and 188 services were cut, according to the Campaign for Better Transport.
Its Buses in Crisis report found that squeezed local authorities across England and Wales had taken £182m away from supported bus services over the decade, affecting more than 3,000 bus routes.
Council funding has preserved funding for services, particularly in rural areas, that private firms have deemed unviable, and where no alternative public transport exists, accounting for more than one in five journeys. But most either cut funding – or spent nothing – last year.
From The Guardian: England’s county councils have warned ministers that the “worst is yet come” over cuts to services and that several authorities risk going bust unless steps are taken to shore up budgets.
Only an emergency injection of funds next year to counter a growing financial “black hole” would head off severe cuts to services and potential unrest among MPs, the County Councils Network said.
It said councils faced having to make “truly unpalatable” cuts to key services such as social care, refuse disposal, libraries, Sure Start centres and roads maintenance while putting up Council Tax bills and introducing new charges.
[Read full article on Guardian website…]
From The Independent: Some of the UK’s poorest people are being barred from attending the funerals of loved ones as part of council cost-cutting, it has been claimed.
[Read article on Independent website…]
From The Guardian: Analysis shows the financial predicament facing councils across England. Government funding has fallen by nearly 50% since 2010. Combined with increased demand for adult and children’s social care and homelessness services, as well as paying higher national insurance contributions for staff, growing numbers of unitary and county councils are relying on their reserves to balance their budgets.
From Localgov: Government funding cuts have served to undermine years of work by local authorities in tackling youth crime, council chiefs warn.
In 2010/11 Whitehall funding for youth offending teams (YOTs) stood at £145m. By 2017/18 it had been slashed to £72m.
These cuts have been made despite evidence YOTs have been effective at preventing young people from getting involved in crime.
The latest Ministry of Justice figures reveal an 11% rise in offences involving knives or offensive weapons by young people, compared with a 10% reduction for adults since March 2012.
The LGA warned this increase is the result of cuts to YOTs and to the Government’s youth justice grant. This is made worse by funding gaps in other areas, such as children’s services, which are forcing councils to divert money away from preventative measures like YOTs.
[Read full article on Localgov…]
From Daily Mirror: Households face the biggest hike in council tax in 14 years with an average bill rise of £81.
[Read article on Mirror website…]
From The Guardian: Local authorities in England are teetering on the edge of a financial crisis, with most planning to increase council tax from April while continuing to cut services, a survey has found.
The annual finance survey from the Local Government Information Unit thinktank (LGIU) comes days after Northamptonshire county council became the first town hall in two decades to declare effective bankruptcy. Severe financial pressures had left the council unable deliver a workable budget.
The LGIU warned that the Northamptonshire crisis was potentially the “tip of the iceberg”, with four-fifths of councils concerned about their financial sustainability amid uncertainty over funding and the accelerating costs of social care.
From SWLondoner: Following the austerity measures implemented by the coalition government, funding for the arts was curtailed, and access to music education has become increasingly difficult.
The 2010 comprehensive spending review announced a 30% cut the Arts Council England budget. These cuts placed significant strain on our cultural organisations, including theatres, orchestras, music venues and art galleries.
Our most prestigious institutions, including the National Theatre, Southbank Centre, Royal opera House, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, are set to lose £2.5million of Arts Council funding per year between them.
Yet the impacts are more widespread; with cuts to local council budgets, less money is being spent on grassroots music education.
While 85% of parents state that music education is beneficial for their children, 70% say that the cost is prohibitive.
The National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain stated that 70% of its members were privately educated, which underlines that access remains an ongoing challenge.
[Read full article on SWLondoner…]
From The Guardian: Labour MPs have expressed their fury after Tory rebels dropped their objections to council cuts because of a new £300m government fund to ease funding difficulties in mostly wealthy Conservative-run areas.
Greg Clark, the communities secretary, insisted the new cash was not a “political bung” to stop up to 30 Tories revolting against the local government settlement.
However, several Tory MPs openly acknowledged they were persuaded to back the government only after the new “transitional relief” was announced, of which about 83% will go to Conservative councils.
Labour MPs were furious that only 5% of the new relief will be going to areas run by Labour. The rest goes to councils with no overall control, coalition or run by other parties.
From The Guardian: Town halls are facing a £4.1bn a year black hole in their budgets that not even the closure of every children’s centre, library, museum and park could fill, council leaders have warned.
George Osborne’s decision to axe the central government grant to councils over the next four years came in a comprehensive spending review that the Local Government Association (LGA) chairman described as a tragic missed opportunity to protect the services “that bind communities together, improve people’s quality of life and protect the most vulnerable”.
Some of the most stretched councils warned that the changes would hit the poorest parts of the country hardest, where there were fewer businesses and taxpayers to make up for lost Whitehall grants.
The Labour leader of Newcastle city council, Nick Forbes, said the move would leave a £16m hole in his budget.