Councils have been told to brace themselves for a ‘second wave’ of recession-related costs and pressures, with responsibility for escalating social problems likely to fall at local government’s door.
In a report with tough messages for both central and local government, the Audit Commission warned the recession is moving into a second stage characterised by “a variety of associated health and domestic issues” with which councils are best placed to deal.
These issues include alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, higher demand for state school places, homelessness and increased family stress, opening opportunities for loan sharks.
The watchdog’s report – the second into the impact of the recession – calls for councils to “do more to prepare for the future”.
“The role of councils will become increasingly important as the recession spreads from businesses into communities,” it read.
Not all partnerships between councils and their public sector partners were “operating as well as they might” and “30% of single tier and county councils (ST&CCs) do not understand their local economies well”, the commission claimed.
Chief executive Steve Bundred sought to play down criticism of councils insisting that, on the whole, councils have responded well to the recession.
“Councils have responded well to the immediate problems but they need to take a step back and recognise there will be different kinds of problems as the ‘second wave’ kicks in,” he said.
However, the report concluded that while most councils understood the local impact of the recession, “few are targeting their efforts effectively and only half of ST&CCs have a recession plan agreed with the local strategic partnership”.
Meanwhile, too few of the “plethora” of national schemes harnessed local knowledge to maximise their impact, the report found.
Local Government Association director of finance and performance, Stephen Jones, said the report was a “good end of term report” for councils.
He added: “The report sends a message to central government that if we are going to have an effective response to the recession, they need to use local knowledge and push more of the powers and more of the money down to local level. The Commission is challenging government and they are absolutely right to do so.”
DCLG’s response was: “The Audti Commission has found that delivery by local councils is patchy. We will provide extra support to councils that are struggling to respond at present.”
- The number of people out of work in the UK has risen by 220,000 in the three months to June - the highest level since 1995.
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