Mark Whitehead 07 August 2018

Warning that more councils could cut services to bare minimum

An increasing number of councils could be forced to cut services to the legal minimum, financial experts have warned.

Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, said the move by East Sussex this week to reduce services to little more than those required by law was 'to be expected' considering the pressure on councils.

A report to East Sussex's cabinet said that without extra government help it would be able only to offer 'core services'.

It follows a similar move by trouble-torn Northamptonshire and warnings from several councils of dramatic cuts to cope with reducing government support and rising demand for services.

Last week Shropshire announced it will freeze all recruitment to cope with a budget gap of nearly £60m over the next five years, and Somerset warned it may have to impose severe spending restrictions.

Mr Wightman said the decision by East Sussex, which had shown 'good financial management', illustrated the 'endemic financial stress in the sector'.

Earlier this year the National Audit Office spending watchdog said 10% of upper-tier authorities - about 20 councils - were 'vulnerable to financial failure'.

Mr Wightman told LocalGov: 'The news that East Sussex County Council is now stripping back service expenditure is to be expected given the pressures faced by local authorities.

'The difference here with Northamptonshire is that East Sussex has spotted the dangers, been open about their financial difficulties and are now doing what they can to meet the legal requirements to balance their books.

'Even with this good financial management the risk for the county council will remain very pressing for some time.'

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