LGIU Response: Autumn Statement 2023
Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive, Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) said:
“Across local government, confidence in the Government’s ability to fix the sector’s financial crisis is at rock bottom. Our recent State of Local Government Finance survey found that only 14% of senior council officials are confident in the sustainability of council finances, and under 5% are happy with the progress that’s been made on delivering a sustainable funding system.
The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement will have done little to boost that confidence. Indeed, local authorities will be left wondering what it will take to have their concerns recognised and addressed by the government.
Councils have been pulling every lever available to them to balance their books: raising council tax, cutting services, and spending their finite reserves, and still we are seeing an ever-increasing number of councils unable to make ends meet in the face of central government spending cuts and increasing demand for council services, particularly adult and children’s social care.
In the last few months, we have seen Birmingham declare a section 114 notice, effectively bankruptcy for councils, and more and more well-run and effective councils are saying that they could be next.
Instead of grasping the nettle on the bold changes needed to bring stability and consistency to the sector, we have today seen yet more tinkering around the edges, with tweaks to business rates and planning. Devolution deals in four areas, Hull & East Yorkshire, Greater Lincolnshire as well as expanded but non-mayoral deals with Cornwall and Lancashire, are indeed welcome for those areas. But this still does not add up to a coherent pattern of governance, while the overlap with investment zones and freeports arguably creates more confusion and complexity.
We are still a long way short of the strategic leadership needed for a sector that is essential to delivering economic growth, wellbeing, services and community cohesion.
One of the themes emerging from our recent research with our members to mark our 40th anniversary is the need for a formal mechanism to enable productive dialogue between local and central government. The need for such a forum is fully evident here as today’s Autumn Statement presents a more of the same approach to local government, deaf to the needs of local service users and freezing out the desperate calls for reform from elected council leaders.
Each year citizens are paying more and getting less from their councils, and without significant structural changes to the way funding is allocated it is difficult to imagine these dire straits ending for councils and the communities they serve.”