Over the last few years I think I have become partially immune to stories about the cuts that local authorities are still required to make. In part this is because the cuts have been such a part of our life for over four years now and have sort of just become part of the context of local government. However, I also think part of it is that the narrative in the sector has, as so often with local government, moved away from the problem and moved firmly into the solutions.
And yet, if anything, the cuts are now biting even harder than they ever had.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, many councils have already taken the medium risk savings (the low hanging fruit was largely a myth but was gone by 2010) and are now moving onto the far more painful savings, some of which may not even be deliverable. More importantly, the Government have continued to keep the squeeze on and have factored in ever more savings over the next three to four years.
I was reminded of this over the weekend when reading this story about Coventry Council who are set to lose another 1,000 staff on top of the 1,000 who have already left. The move equates to 1 in 6 members of the current workforce being made redundant or retiring and not being replaced and will hopefully save the council another £60m by 2017/18.
The Leader of Coventry Council summed it up:
"The worst is yet to come"
The big picture is just as bad. The LGA published their 2014 Future Funding Outlook earlier this month and despite being local government finance being fearfully complex (thanks to @flipchartrick for notifying us to its existence) the document paints a very stark picture.
As Sir Merrick Cockell details in his introduction:
‘Where councils have continued to balance their budgets, the funding gap in local government is still growing by £2.1 billion each year. Closing the gap each year demonstrates councils’ resilience but each efficiency saving that is found reduces the potential for efficiencies in future years, so many councils are forced to look for savings from service reductions.’
The below chart shows the looming gap between funding and expenditure.
I recommend that readers go and check out the whole document but there is one other chart that caught my eye:
As the report states:
‘With social care and waste spending absorbing a rising proportion of the resources available to councils, funding for other council services drops by 43% or £11.6 billion in cash terms by the end of the decade, from £26.6 billion in 2010/11 to £15 billion in 2019/20. But even this significantly understates the scale of the problem as within these “other services” are many statutory services which cannot be cut significantly: concessionary fares, minimum revenue provision, waste and transport levies and other statutory services.’
Local government has achieved a lot but the challenges we are still facing are probably twice as tough as what has gone before. As the Leader of Coventry says:
"The worst is yet to come"
And that genuinely scares me.