My latest column from MJ
The recent LGA report into future financing signalled that the very role and shape of local government in the UK is hurtling towards a significant crossroads. What it showed was that based on current projections there will be a £16.5bn shortfall in 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 collection also creating significant cost pressures, services such as road 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 councils staring into a financial abyss.
Some of the very services that the public value the most will come under serious threat if this funding chasm is not bridged. Local government could be left denuded of any capacity to be the main catalyst for the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the local area. The ability to join up partnerships through place leadership would be nothing but a distant memory.
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 an urgent priority. This needs to not only consider how additional revenue can be raised but also if earlier preventative spending on public health, through local government, can reduce the cost of NHS treatment in later life. If this is the case then a realignment of funding needs to take place.
At a time when local economies are suffering it is more important than ever for local government to provide local leverage, as well as provide community leadership on major socio-economic issues such as tackling youth unemployment, climate change, housing need and public health.
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.