One in four local authorities are planning to reduce spending in children's services, a report has warned.
The State of Local Government Finance Survey 2019 found 24 per cent of councils planned to "reduce activity" in children's care services.
"Children’s Services and Education is the top immediate financial pressure for the second year running (36% of councils), ahead of Adult Social Care (23%) which has historically ranked highest. However Adult Social Care is still under severe strain, being named as the top long- term financial pressure (37% of councils)," said the report by LGiU and The MJ which have run the State of Local Government Finance Survey every January since 2012.
The report found that eight in 10 councils say they are not confident in the sustainability of local government finance; none said they were ‘very confident’.
Almost all - 97% - of councils plan to increase council tax in 2019-20, three quarters by more than 2.5% (the maximum increase without a referendum is 3% in most places).
Almost one in 10 councils are anticipating legal challenges this year due to reductions in service provision and over half of councils said that the current financial situation in local government is negatively affecting their relationship with citizens.
Councils will be forced to cut many community services this year, with reduced activity expected across libraries (32% of councils), arts and culture (46%), parks and leisure (45%), waste collection (22%), recycling (11%) and roads (38%).
Services for vulnerable people are not immune, with councils also planning to reduce activity in Adult Social Care (29%), Children’s Care Services (24%), special education and disability support (16%), homelessness support (11%) and funding for local Citizens Advice Bureaux (18%).
Over half of councils (53%) plan to dip into their reserves this year and 40% of councils plan to use their reserves two years running.
Eighty four per cent of councils say it is a high priority or essential to explore other sources of income and eight in 10 councils are considering commercialising council services to raise extra money and over half want to sell off council assets.
Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of LGiU said: "Uncertainty piled upon uncertainty: we have been running this annual survey with the MJ since 2012. We know that council funding is broken. Eight out of 10 of those people leading English local government tell us it is unsustainable.
"This year we see that we are no closer to finding a solution. Councils are making do by increasing council tax as much as they can, increasing charging and dipping in to their reserves. And even with these desperate measures they are having to reduce spending; not just on vital place-shaping services like leisure, libraries and parks but in core life-saving areas like social care and children’s services.
"Now more than ever we need a thriving, resilient local government sector to weather the storm of national uncertainty, but years of chronic underfunding has left local government on life support.
"So we urgently need a bigger debate about how and at what level we fund vital local services," he concluded.
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