Nearly all of England’s local authorities are planning council tax hikes this year, as they battle desperately to stay afloat after years of brutal funding cuts.
Unite warned the moves will do little to resolve the crisis and called on the government “to stop bleeding councils dry”.
Council tax increases are planned at 95 per cent of councils, with 93 per cent hiking charges to cover funding shortfalls, the 2018 State of Local Government Finance report found.
Nine out of 10 local authorities will be millions of pounds over budget by the end of the year, with many cutting back on vital services to make ends meet.
This week Northamptonshire council became the first local authority in decades to effectively declare itself bankrupt, while Surrey council is facing a £100m hole in its finances.
Council tax rises of up to six per cent will be in seen in April as local authorities attempt to cover gaping holes in their budgets.
A third of English local authorities were surveyed for the report by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) thinktank.
‘Councils on the edge’
LGiU chief executive Jonathan Carr-West said, “Councils are on the edge. They are for the most part holding services together, though a significant minority are not. But they can only do this this by raising council tax, increasing charging and draining their reserves.
“The system is unsustainable and needs far more fundamental reform than is presently on offer. It’s simply not acceptable that we don’t know how local government will work post 2020.
“Councils are calling for assurances around funding for the next three years and for a fundamental redesign of the finance system. At present government is offering neither. That has to change.”
One of the primary concerns flagged by local councils in the survey was decimated social care budgets. This was underlined by a National Audit Office (NAO) report also released this week, which found that England is facing a recruitment crisis in social care because of poor wages and working conditions.
The NAO report, which looked at Age UK research which found that 12m elderly people had some level of unmet care during 2016/17, said the social care sector will be unable to recruit the between 350,000 and 700,000 extra care workers estimated to be needed by 2030.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said council tax hikes will do little to repair the Tories’ attack on social care or local government more widely.
“Council tax hikes won’t solve chronic local authority funding shortages – the shortfall is simply too big. Their implementation is being used by the government as an excuse to continue starving councils – most of them in poorer areas – of money needed for vital public services,” explained Cartmail.
“We now have a situation where millions of elderly people are going without the care they need because of local government cuts, but instead of trying to fix a social care system on the brink of collapse, the Tories have passed the buck to councils to deflect the blame.
“Care workers are leaving the sector in droves because councils cannot afford to adequately fund social care. Nor it is just care workers – low paid local government workers are also suffering after years of frozen pay, as are the crucial services they provide.”
Cartmail added, “For the health and wellbeing of communities up and down the country, the government must end its counterproductive campaign of austerity and stop bleeding councils dry.”