Councils call for ‘honest discussion’ on what they should be expected to deliver as new data reveals local authorities spend two-thirds of their budgets on care services

CCN Latest News, CCN News 2024 | 18 March 2024

Councils are spending over £200 per person more on children’s services and adult social care compared to a decade ago, with these two services alone now consuming two-thirds of the average local authority’s budget, new analysis shows.

Council leaders say that a combination of increased demand and rising costs mean spend on these two care services has mushroomed over the last decade, squeezing the funding they have for the hundreds of other services they deliver such as libraries, road repairs, street lighting, and parks maintenance.

The analysis by Pixel Financial Management (Pixel) for the County Councils Network (CCN) shows that per person spending on children’s services has risen most dramatically, rising 77% over the past decade and consuming almost a quarter (23%) of all council expenditure – up from less than one fifth (18%) in 2014. Spending on adult social care has risen by 48% per person over the same period.

For the 37 upper-tier councils in county areas who are members of the CCN, per-person spend children’s services has doubled since 2013-14, whilst per-head spend on adult social care has increased 50%. For those councils, these two services combined account for up to three quarters of some councils’ entire budgets. On average, they account for 69% of an average county authority’s budget, up from 63% a decade ago.

Earlier this month it was announced in the Budget that government departments where budgets are not protected will see a real terms reduction in funding from 2025/26. The CCN argues that councils will not be able to withstand another bout of funding reductions without fundamentally undermining the financial solvency of even the most well-run and efficient councils.

The CCN is also warning that with demand showing no signs of abating there needs to be an honest discussion ahead of the general election with all main political parties as to what councils can be expected to deliver if local government is to face a further funding squeeze.

The ten-year analysis of budgets reveals:

  • For councils across all of England with social care responsibilities, both children’s services and adult social care now consume 65% of a local authority’s entire budget on average up from 57% in 2014. Taken together, councils on average are spending £212 per head more on these services combined compared to a decade before.
  • Children’s services have witnessed the most dramatic rise in per person expenditure: from £120 per head in 2014 to £212 in 2024, a 77% rise. With spending per person on adult social care also rising over the same period from £252 to £372, these two services alone account for 85% of the entire increase in per head spending on all council services.
  • Councils are spending significantly more on children’s services and adult social care because demand and costs have mushroomed between 2014 and 2024, with councils spending less on all other services as a consequence. Alongside this, government grant funding has largely been focused on those care services, and there has been the introduction of social care council tax precept. However, these measures have been insufficient to compensate for rising costs and demand.
  • Per-person spend on children’s services for the 37 councils in county areas has virtually doubled in the last decade – going from £88 per head in 2013/14 to £171 per person in 2023/24: a 93% increase. This is higher than any other council type and the England average increase of 77%.
  • Per-person spend on adult social care for the 37 councils in county areas which the CCN represents has increased by 50% over the last decade: going from £237 per person in 2013/14 to £357 per person in 2023/24. Taken together, county and unitary councils are spending £202 more per person on these two care services as they were a decade ago.
  • The 37 councils in England’s county areas have, on average, budgeted to spend 69% of their entire budgets on just adult social care and children’s services, rising to 76% for some councils. This average represents an increase from 63% a decade ago.

Looking ahead, with demand and costs projected to rise in both children’s and adults care services, the proportion of councils’ budgets for all other services – including those that are highly valued and used by the majority of an area’s population – will continue to be squeezed. The number of children in care has reached a record high, whilst the number of over 65s has risen 20% over the past decade.

Alongside a discussion on what councils can reasonably be expected to deliver, the CCN is also calling on the next government to set out a comprehensive set of reforms, which if implemented successfully, could help address demand and costs in children’s services. This includes reform of the marketplace in children’s services, and a cap set on what private provide providers can charge for residential placements for children in care.

Cllr Roger Gough, CCN Spokesperson for Children’s Services said:

“This data brings to life the difficult decisions we all had to face when putting together our budgets this winter: what is left after spend for care services is factored in? These services are some of the most important we provide – they change peoples’ lives and they protect the most vulnerable in our society – but the fact remains they are not used by the majority of the population.

“With more than two-thirds of the average county local authority’s budget now spent on just children’s services and adult social care, rising to three quarters in some areas, there is simply less and less each year for us to spend on highly valued services such as libraries, road repairs, and street lighting.

“This month’s Budget confirmed that the public finances remain extremely tight. Therefore we need to have an honest discussion with all main political parties as we head into the general election on what councils can reasonably be expected to deliver, in a climate where substantive extra funds are unlikely and both demand and costs are set to rise. In tandem with this, the next government should also undertake an ambitious reform programme to drive down costs in children’s services and social care, leaving no stone unturned.”