There was a real feel of local government being at a crossroads around the LGA conference in Birmingham this week, particularly as the LGA launched its report into future financing to coincide with the start of the event. What it showed was that based on current projections there will be a £16.5b shortfall on council budgets by 2020.
It predicted that 45% of budgets will be spent on social services by the end of the decade due to increased need and with waste disposal also creating significant cost pressures, services such as roads maintenance, libraries and leisure could see their budgets eroded by 90% compared to present comparative levels.
The 28% cuts between 2010/11 and 2014/15 have impacted heavily on council finances and combined with growing demand it really does leave council’s staring into a financial abyss. Without reform of adult social care funding soon this financial Armageddon scenario is likely to become a reality. That is why in APSE we are calling for an all-party parliamentary commission to consider this issue as a highest priority.
Conference week is always a great chance to catch up with some of the key players in the local government family in its widest sense and capture the mood music. On the way into the venue I stopped to chat with 4 very different council leaders in the first 20 minutes and there was over 200 visitors to the APSE stand over the course of the 3 days. The topic of finance wasn’t far from most peoples lips.
For those who believe in local government as a force for good in wider society it really is a scary thought that its role could be no more than that of an insignificant bystander within the local community, unable to have influence over the major public policy issues of the day due to its lack of any meaningful involvement in the services that the public consume on a daily basis.