As local councils prepare their budgets for the financial year 2014-5, they face reductions in their income from central government which by 2015-6 “will bring to 43% the total cuts to local authority funding announced by this Government”.
So estimates the councils’ umbrella body, the Local Government Association, adding that “the money available to deliver non-social-care services... is predicted to shrink by 66% by the end of the decade”.
Central government pressure squeezes even tighter because it goes with decrees forbidding councils to raise council tax — the major element of their income that they can control — by more than 2% without a referendum, and penalising them if they raise it at all.
A lot of things local councils do are legal obligations, prescribed by central government. The cuts slash into the areas where council have some degree of choice, like libraries, pools, and gyms.
201 local authority libraries closed in 2011-2, and 74 in 2012-3. On present projections, around a quarter of all the local authority libraries in Britain will close over this decade.
Those that remain depend on volunteers: employed library staff numbers went down 6.8% last year, volunteers increased 44%.
Yet Labour councils still plan only to “manage” the cuts as best they can.
A few Labour councillors rebelled in 2013. More rebels voting against cuts in 2014, and more support from them from unions, will be an important spur to community and union resistance.
• The Councillors Against Cuts campaign has a new statement online.