Britain’s cities have shouldered the cost of austerity, a study has revealed – with investment in libraries, sport and heritage hit hardest.
Research by think tank Centre for Studies showed an average spending cut of £386 per person in urban areas compared to £172 per head elsewhere.
According to the report, areas in northern England with particularly high rates of poverty bore the brunt of cuts. Hardest-hit Barnsley. where 62 per cent of all 2017-18 council spending went to social care, suffered a 40 per cent decrease in local authority spending since 2009-10. The number of cities spending over half their budgets on social care sits at over 50 per cent, an eight-fold increase.
The report said that the cuts “have combined with a growing demand for social care”, therefore squeezing the budgets of other services while social care spending goes up.
The average spending cut was 20 per cent in northern cities, compared to nine per cent in South-West and South-East cities (excluding London).
The greatest overall spending cut was to sports and recreation, down 72 per cent. Investment in heritage dropped by 57 per cent, and libraries were shown to be receiving 40 per cent less funding.
Because many of the areas impacted the most by austerity have high rates of poverty and rely more on central government funding, they have also been less able to raise their own money (through sales, fees and charges like parking) in response to grant cuts. York has done this best – more than a quarter of the council’s budget now comes from charges.
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Andrew Carter, Centre for Cities chief executive, said: “Cities drive our national economy and, while austerity has improved local government efficiency, its sheer scale has placed public services in many of our most populated cities under huge pressure. Cities Outlook 2019 shows that the cities most affected are economically weaker and have been less able to absorb the loss of central government funding.
“Councils have managed as best they can but the continued singling-out of local government for cuts cannot continue. There is a very real risk that many of our largest councils will in the near future become little more than social care providers. Fairer funding must mean more funding for cities.
“If, as the Prime Minister has said, austerity is coming to an end then the Spending Review must address the financial challenges facing cities. But this does not just mean more money. Giving local authorities more power to decide how they raise and spend funds, providing more flexible multi-year budgets and reforming the way social care is paid for also need to be urgently introduced.”
Centre for Cities used the report to urge the government to use the Spending Review to ensure that its promise to end austerity fully applies to local government, and in particular to cities.
Councillor Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council – which saw cuts of 26.6 per cent overall – said: “The story of cities in recent years is one of resilience and reinvention. We have faced a level of austerity that has hit badly our ability to thrive, but have seen cities such as Newcastle find new ways of securing growth.
“Now is the time for government to back our efforts and ensure cities are recognised as economic powerhouses fuelling the UK economy.
“That means we need a new era of real devolution and an end to the belief in government that simply taxing local residents more can make up for funding shortfalls, especially when it comes to care services.
“Our message is clear. Hand cities the tools and watch the UK economy flourish.”