William Eichler 11 October 2017

Welsh local government bearing ‘heaviest burden of austerity’, councillors warn

Local government is still bearing the ‘heaviest burden of austerity’, council leaders say in response to the Welsh government’s draft local government settlement.

The settlement contains a 0.5% reduction in local government funding. However, representatives from the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) warn this ‘fails to recognise the full story’.

They say there are service pressures which amount to £212m in 2018-19 and the sector will have to look for savings of nearly 4.5% of net budgets in the next financial year.

This comes on top of cuts of over £1bn that have been made to date and 25,000 job losses across the sector.

A recent report by Wales Public Services 2025 found functions, including transport, protection, culture, libraries and environmental services, have carried the weight of budget reductions, being hollowed out by up to 40%.

The WLGA said in response to the publication of this report last month that it ‘laid bare the catastrophic impact’ of eight years of austerity.

The Welsh government’s finance secretary Mark Drakeford warned earlier this month that cuts were the result of the UK Government’s austerity agenda.

‘The UK Government’s decision to plough on with its flawed policy of austerity means we continue to face cuts to our budget. By the end of the decade, it will have been cut in real terms by 7% since 2010 – £1.2bn less to spend on vital public services,’ he said.

‘On top of this, the UK Government’s £3.5bn of unallocated cuts to public spending for 2019-20 continue to cast a shadow over our plans for the future – this could mean a further cut of up to £175m to the Welsh budget depending on where the unallocated cuts fall.

Commenting on the draft settlement, WLGA leader Cllr Debbie Wilcox said: ‘I have gone on record on a number of occasions to express my frustrations with the UK Government’s austerity agenda; it clearly isn’t working.

‘The competing demands on the Welsh government’s own funding presents the cabinet secretary with difficult choices and we recognize his efforts to try to protect local services.

‘The problem for local government is that we are now in a ‘war of attrition’. Services are wearing down to the point of collapse and the public are rightly growing frustrated in terms of paying council tax and yet seeing key community functions cut or closed.

‘The whole position is unsustainable. Local authorities cannot go on to be expected to make the harshest of cuts whilst continuing to provide the same breadth and level of service; in short, something has got to give.’

The settlement allocates an additional £62m in 2018-19 for schools and £42m for social services in 2018-19. An additional £6m for homelessness prevention has also been allocated.

Responding to the settlement, shadow local government secretary, Janet Finch-Saunders, said: 'The biggest danger to schools and social care in Wales is the Welsh Government’s mismanagement of the public finances – with four in seven health boards set to require bailouts this year.

'With a protected block grant, the transfer of new tax raising powers, and a fair funding settlement, the buck has to stop with this Welsh Labour Government – propped up by Plaid Cymru. They have the tools to do the job and they must take responsibility.'

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