Council cuts: Northamptonshire and East Sussex to offer only bare-bones service

Child social care and other core services face being slashed despite criticism from experts

Local authorities, council, bins
Rubbish collections are likely to be reduced in bid to save money
(Image credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Two councils in England have announced plans to strip local services to the “legal minimum” in order to deal with budgetary shortfalls.

Drastic cuts and widespread redundancies are expected to be approved by councillors in Northamptonshire as they meet today to discuss proposals to deal with a £70m budget shortfall, says the BBC.

The proposals are similar to those revealed last week by East Sussex County Council, which is facing a cash shortfall that could leave it bankrupt within three years.

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Northamptonshire County Council leader Matt Golby said: “Unfortunately, there are going to be some very difficult decisions ahead for Northamptonshire as we work hard to bring our spending under control while doing our very best to protect services for the most vulnerable in our communities.”

The Government insists that the funding arrangements for local councils strike a necessary balance between relieving the pressure on local authorities and keeping tax bills down.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told The Guardian: “We are providing local authorities with £90.7bn over the next two years to meet the needs of their residents. We are also giving them the power to retain the growth in business rates income and are working with local government to develop a funding system for the future based on the needs of different areas.”

Northamptonshire council’s financial collapse “has been portrayed by ministers as being down to chronic mismanagement rather than lack of government funding”, says the newspaper. But East Sussex “is regarded as a stable and well-run council, giving authority and credibility to its shock warnings of the consequences of underfunding”, The Guardian adds.

What services are under threat?

Northamptonshire council, which is technically insolvent, warned last month that it would probably be forced to reduce services for vulnerable adults and children. This triggered a warning from the Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, who said last week that there could be “catastrophic consequences” if such cuts went ahead.

Longfield told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m extremely worried that the financial difficulties that Northamptonshire County Council are facing will mean that they are not going to be protecting the services for the most vulnerable children, which could have catastrophic consequences for those children.”

Radical cuts will also fall on road maintenance budgets, home-to-school transport, refuse services, museums and libraries.

Are any other councils taking similar measures?

The National Audit Office has said that up to 15 English councils could go bankrupt in the next few years as costs race ahead of resources, “especially in children’s services, which have experienced a surge in the number of at-risk young people being taken into care, and in services for vulnerable older adults”, reports The Guardian.

Last week, two families won a case against Bristol City Council over plans to reduce funding of special education needs and disability (SEND) services.

The High Court “ordered the council to reverse the cuts, with Judge Barry Cotter QC telling the local authority that it had acted unlawfully and there was no need for a reduction”, reports The Independent.

The judge said the council had “no regard” for children’s welfare and was only interested in balancing the books.

He added: “There is no evidence, from the extensive paperwork evidencing the defendant’s [council] decision-making process, that members of the council had any regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, still less ‘actively promote’ children’s welfare, when making the decision to proceed with the proposed savings.”

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