13 Dec 2010

Warning 73,000 jobs could go as Big Society plan pushed on

Councils are set to find out how much funding is to be cut, which will lead to a reduction in local government spending without parallel in modern times, an expert tells Channel 4 News.

Libraries could be hit by spending cuts (Getty images)

Local authorities have been warned they will have to do “more for less” as they brace for an average cut of 10.7 per cent.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has insisted he has been given advice by the Local Government Association about how much of a reduction in their funding councils could take.

“I am well within those figures for the majority of councils,” he said.

“I am expecting local authorities to provide more for less. I am expecting them to be able to provide a reasonable level of service.”

Tony Travers, a local government expert from the London School of Economics, told Channel 4 News that the settlement announcement will mean councils will be able to have some certainty about their budgets for the next two years.

Pot holes will be left to grow bigger, some street lights will be turned off at night, and charges for swimming pools and parking will go up. Tony Travers, local government expert

“Until now, they had to work on the basis of a guess, which will undoubtedly have been a careful guess,” He said. “Once they get the real numbers today, we will see the deepest and longest cuts since 1945. It will have a systematic, long-term impact on local governments and will mean councils will have to find new ways of providing local services.”

Mr Travers warns that the cuts will have an impact on most local government services, “but probably mostly on things such as libraries, funding for voluntary organisations, arts and museums, road and road maintenance.”

He said that is because they are areas which councils will feel can be reduced, as opposed to social care and children’s services.

He said: “pot holes will be left to grow bigger, some street lights will be turned off at night, and charges for swimming pools and parking will go up.”

The announcement on settlements comes on the same day as the Decentralisation and Localism Bill, which will affect councils in England and Wales, will be published.

It gives residents the right to question how services are run and potentially take them over. These could include children’s centres, social care and transport. The bill gives communities more say over planning and deciding where new housing developments can be built. It also includes the abolition of Home Improvement Packs and will give residents the power to veto “excessive” council tax increases.

Mr Pickles posted on his Twitter page on Friday: “Localism Bill will be introduced next Monday. Lots of power to Councils.” He has said that the bill “puts new rights in law for people to protect, improve and even run important frontline services.”

Localism Bill will be introduced next Monday. Lots of power to Councils. Eric Pickles on Twitter

“[It is] also a massive opportunity for the community and voluntary sector to demonstrate their innovation and the new ideas they can bring to the table for better, cost effective services,” Mr Pickles said.

Job cuts

It comes as a survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, and completed by 166 local councils in England, Wales and Scotland, found that up to 73,000 jobs could be under threat in England alone.

The survey found that 30 per cent of the jobs under consideration are likely to be front-line, non-managerial posts. It also shows that spending on services such as highways, environmental health, planning, street cleaning, waste and recycling could be reduced by ten to 20 per cent. Adult social care services are also going to be vulnerable to cuts.

Meanwhile, the GMB Union has warned that the latest threats of local authority job cuts are in Trafford, Preston, Wirral, Cheshire, Cambridgeshire and Gloucestershire. It is also concerned that the pace of redundancies will quicken in the New Year.

The Union said that over 70 local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have now issued warnings of job losses as a result of the Government’s Spending Review.