“The advice was cheated. We need more government money ‘| Local government

VSraig Cheney sits slumped in his chair, looking dejected instead of his usually cheerful demeanor. Bristol’s deputy mayor, who is also chairman of the city council’s finance committee, is set to save £ 23million in next year’s budget – on top of nearly £ 100million in cuts three ago years – to balance the books.

“We have ways to swallow our own smoke if the only problem is inflation, but there are so many other additional costs that we have to face,” says the former business consultant turned labor adviser. “It’s hard.”

It could have been worse. Until Rishi Sunak’s autumn budget, the gap in Bristol’s finances for next year was £ 41million, or around 10% of the city’s daily spending.

In Liverpool, Deputy Mayor Jane Corbett must find £ 34million in savings before the next March deadline to present a balanced budget.

“We are living on sums of government money,” says the longtime adviser, “and while we are grateful for the support we received during the pandemic, our budgets for social care for adults and children cannot just not cope. growing demand.

Nottingham council is fighting to save £ 28million and avoid closing six children’s centers. Photograph: Tim Goode / PA

Like many other county authorities, Lancashire Council has also launched a search for savings, in its case of £ 43million. Thurrock in Essex, a unitary authority led by the Tories, is seeking to cut one in four jobs and sell assets, including the Thameside Theater in Grays, to save £ 34million by 2024. Nottingham, which billed D-Band’s highest municipal tax this year to make up for a large deficit, is fighting to save £ 28million next year and avoid closing six children’s centers, with the loss of 91 jobs.

They are among hundreds of councils, led by Conservatives or Labor, now wondering how to reconcile the Chancellor’s message that austerity is over with public sector deficits running into billions of pounds.

During the pandemic, the government offered local authorities a financial lifeline. But since the spring and the end of the third lockdown, ministers have focused their generosity on capital spending, as part of a loosely defined agenda to level the regions.

Locked in various pots, including the cities fund and the ‘leveling up’ fund, over £ 8billion that councils can bid on if they are able to show tangible benefits by giving a kick from youth to main streets and housing estates.

On the other hand, liquidity for statutory services, which must be separated from capital funds, is largely depleted, at a time when rising prices and falling social benefits put additional pressure on low-income households.

In the budget, around an additional £ 1.6bn per year was pledged to the councils for the three years from 2022, although part of that additional money comes from a maximum annual increase of 3% of the housing tax. This means the average household bill could reach £ 2,074 by 2024-25, up from £ 1,898 today.

Ahead of the fall budget, Sunak vowed, “What we’re going to see is absolutely no return to austerity. People are going to see very significant investments in public services.

Michael Gove, secretary of state in the Department of Leveling, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), is currently engaged in a battle with Sunak for more funds, but sources close to No.11 do not expect that Gove emerges waving a big check. They say the Chancellor is resisting any increase in the three-year settlement agreed with Whitehall’s departments, pushing an announcement slated for last week around Christmas or possibly the New Year.

“The boards’ point of view was that a big hitter had arrived in the form of Michael Gove, but his silence makes people uncomfortable,” said Jonathan Carr-West, head of the think tank of the Local government information unit.

Jayne Kirkham, a Labor member of the Conservative-controlled Cornwall council, is angry that the county has been ‘wronged by the government’. Cornwall is one of the poorest regions in Europe and before Brexit it benefited from EU social funds. It was owed £ 100million a year over the next seven years from Brussels.

After originally pledging to replace EU money lost for advice, the government instead chose to distribute money through a new shared prosperity fund to “reduce inequalities between communities”. Cornwall has only got £ 1million so far.

Investment funds for road and hospital construction, however, do not pay public sector wages. Before next April, Cornwall council plans to cut 410 posts, or around 10% of all council jobs, as part of a draft plan to close a £ 55million gap in the 2022 annual budget -2023. Advisors will review the plan at a meeting this week.

The Tories came to power in Truro in this year’s May election after all six constituencies from Westminster to Cornwall turned blue following Boris Johnson’s 2019 victory.

Kirkham says a mix of service cuts – including the closing of four swimming pools – a 3% municipal tax increase and a willingness to outsource more operations to the private sector and charities will prove to be detrimental .

“We just need more government money,” she said. “A 1% council tax increase only raises £ 3million in Cornwall, so it’s hard to see how the council can avoid raising it as much as it’s allowed.”

The proposals include cutting social worker jobs, although Cornwall’s new administration admits child and adult care services are facing an increase in the number of cases.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies earlier this year showed that local authorities were the biggest losers from government austerity measures, suffering budget cuts between 2010 and 2020 of 40% once inflation is factored in. .

Strengthening liver liverpool
Liverpool say they are living on temporary handouts from the central government. Photograph: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

Corbett, who represents a part of Liverpool that ranks among the poorest in the country, said for his city the measures amounted to £ 450million in lost revenue. Now he “lives on handouts from the central government” which lasts a few months before running out.

“When you find out in October that £ 6million is available to support the most vulnerable during the winter – and the money was only signed a fortnight ago, but must all be spent by now March 2022 – you can see how difficult it is to plan and deliver services right now.

Any improvement can only follow planning, and this is difficult when the government still has to decide on several important questions: the proportion of business rates that the municipalities will be able to keep; how the local government funding system will be agreed; and the results of a fair funding review.

The DLUHC said the councils have benefited from more than £ 12 billion in the past 18 months, “with over £ 6 billion available to spend as they see fit”. He added: “We have made it clear that the councils should not put taxpayer dollars at risk unduly and that local people will continue to have the final say on the council tax, with the possibility of veto excessive increases. ”

Bristol is considered one of Britain’s most desirable cities and its population is growing. But several neighborhoods within city limits rank among the poorest in the country, with a high proportion of families in need of municipal services.

Bristol Town Hall and College Green
Bristol is considered a wealthy city but has pockets of poverty that “go unrecognized”. Photograph: eye35.pix / Alamy

“We are clustered in the wealthier south of the country, which means Bristol’s specific problems are not recognized,” Deputy Mayor Cheney said.

It selected nine of the 47 shopping streets and parades of stores for financial support, to avoid a collapse in the number of retailers. But its ability to do more is limited as corporate tax revenues decline and the government is slow to provide details on how the additional funds will be distributed.

“We want to consult each other on the choices we will have to make,” he adds, “but that is not possible, not when so much is undecided.”


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