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Councils slash housing, cultural and transport budgets, new analysis finds

Published 02/09/2016

Local authorities have cut the amount of money they spend on cultural facilities such as libraries, analysis shows
Local authorities have cut the amount of money they spend on cultural facilities such as libraries, analysis shows

Museums, libraries and leisure centres in England have seen their council funding plunge by almost a third since 2010, with officials warning of more "difficult decisions" to come.

New analysis by the Press Association (PA) has found that cuts averaging 29% have been made by local authorities to budgets for cultural services, which also includes money earmarked for community centres and theatres.

There has been a similar-sized fall in spending on transport services, which covers the upkeep of local roads as well as street lighting and concessionary travel fares.

An even bigger drop has hit housing budgets - including support for the homeless - where councils have reduced funding by an average of 40%.

The PA used new government data to compare the change in council day-to-day expenditure across the decade - and in almost every area the amount of spending has dropped.

When adjusted for inflation, total expenditure on cultural services across England has fallen by just over £1 billion since 2010.

Spending on environmental services, which includes public toilets and pest control, has dropped by just over £0.5 billion, a decrease of 11%.

But funding for children and families' social care has gone up by around 16%, while the overall level of funding for social care has stayed broadly unchanged.

Responding to the findings, the Local Government Association (LGA) said councils have "worked hard" to safeguard key services, but this has "inevitably" meant spending has fallen on other services people value.

Claire Kober, chair of the LGA resources board, said: "Councils have increasingly had to do more with less in recent years while trying to protect services, such as caring for the elderly, protecting children and reducing homelessness, in the face of growing demand.

"Inevitably it has meant having less to spend on many of the other services people value, such as filling potholes and funding leisure facilities like pools, gyms and parks and museums.

"The next few years will continue to be a challenge and more difficult decisions will still have to be made. All councils will have to find further substantial savings from local services to plug funding gaps over the next four years and compensate for the rising cost pressures they face."

The PA's analysis also found that spending on planning and development services, responsible for the likes of building policy and environmental initiatives, has nearly halved since 2010 (a drop of 48%).

Spending on education services has fallen by 30%, but this is largely due to an increasing number of council-funded schools changing their status to academies, which are funded directly by central government.

Heather Wakefield, head of local government at Unison, said: "Councils have done their best to protect services and shield communities from the worst of the cuts but that hasn't stopped libraries, youth clubs and children's centres from closing, or charges to local residents from going up.

"Local authority services are at breaking point, and there's no light at the end of the tunnel."

Fiona Farmer, national officer at Unite, said key services are "being hollowed out" thanks to cuts ordered by central government.

"With the axe to funding falling disproportionately on deprived communities it is those who are most in need who are being hurt," she added.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "The Government has provided a long-term funding settlement for councils which will give them almost £200 billion to spend between now and 2020.

"This will allow them to deliver high quality services whilst keeping council tax bills down. It is for local authorities to manage their budgets in a way that meets the needs of their residents."

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