In its response to a government consultation on funding for councils next year, the County Councils Network (CCN) warns that its councils will set out £685m in savings next February to balance their budgets.
In addition, those county authorities say another £233m of ‘unplanned’ frontline service cuts will be needed – which have yet to be identified – unless government provides these councils with new funding next year.
There are also fears these funding pressures will grow even further, with councils again needing to overspend on social care services; further increasing the risk of councils only offering a ‘core offer’ of services or being unable to balance their budgets.
This year, county authorities overspent £264m on children’s services in the face of unprecedented demand for services. With preventative services likely to be the victim of the £685m of cuts already planned, an overspend of at least 10% is likely to be repeated.
Below, watch County Councils Network vice-chair Philip Atkins tell BBC News that counties will have to make ‘difficult decisions’ next year. You can read write-up of our research on BBC News here.
In these circumstances, councils will need to divert yet more resources to these care services – increasing reductions to non-social care expenditure such as roads, libraries, economic growth services, and bus routes.
Unless the government intervenes and provides new funding, councils will have ‘no choice’ but to outline almost £1bn of reductions in their budgets next February to ensure that all councils can balance their books next year.
The reductions next year are likely to equate to further cuts to some care services, extra charges being introduced, the closure of recycling centres, less money for pothole filling, the removal of bus routes, and cuts to public health services.
From April the government’s ‘adult social care precept’ will end for 13 county authorities, with these councils already levying the maximum increase during the previous two years. The government has also chose not to renew the ‘Adult Social Care Grant’, which has provided councils with last minute funding over the past two years.
Considering the additional strains that ending both these vital funding streams will have on councils, who are already under intense financial pressure, CCN is calling for an immediate injection of new resources.
Ministers will respond to the consultation later this winter and finalised the local government finance settlement in parliamentary vote in February. In the previous three years, Minsters have needed to provide last minute resources following lobbying from council leaders and rural MPs.
In the last few weeks, councils such as Somerset and Northamptonshire, have all had to rubber-stamp in-year funding cuts and savings to keep to their 2018-19 budgets, whilst several others have recorded in-year overspends.
CCN also warns that other avenues of funding for councils are closing. With councils using at least £185m of reserves this year, their ability to draw down the same levels next year to offset cuts is limited. CCN’s submission shows that rural councils are likely to draw down £65m less in 2019-20 compared to this year.
Cllr Nick Rushton, CCN finance spokesman and leader of Leicestershire County Council, said:
“County authorities are in a serious and extremely challenging financial position. The further planned funding cuts and continued escalation of costs outside of our control, will make this bad situation even worse.
I know from my experience in Leicestershire, that demand for services, cost-inflation and government grant cuts will create £40m of financial pressures next year. Some of this can be mitigated by increasing council tax, but further savings will be necessary.
“County councils across the country have no choice but find a further £1bn of savings next year. Choices will be limited and reductions to front line services inevitable: with valued services such as pothole and highway repairs, children’s centres, libraries and increased charges for residents all, on the agenda.
“There is not enough money today to run vital services. Next year there is even less from the drop in government funding, expiry of the social care grant and the ending of the social care precept for some councils. We will have to once again ask our residents to pay, but we are at the point where council tax rises alone are not going to protect services.
“The government needs to intervene if we are going to avoid unpalatable cutbacks next year. It is only with extra resource delivered on a sustained basis that will allow delivery of services that the public deserve, growth of our economies, and protection of the vulnerable and elderly.
“It is not acceptable that county councils and others outside of London, have to maximise council tax increases and slash services just to survive, whilst those in the capital can offer additional services, at rates of council tax we can only dream of. The case for fair funding and has never been more compelling, has been made to government and they must act.”
Notes to editor