There is not a single council service area that a majority of officers believe will be protected from further cuts, LGC research reveals.
LGC’s Confidence Survey reveals the expectation has increased that individual services will be protected, in comparison to last year’s findings. However, there was not a single service in which confidence outweighed pessimism that cuts could be avoided.
Despite a further fall in optimism among senior officers compared to last year that savings in the current financial year and in the mid-term will be achieved, there has been a moderate rise in confidence that further savings will not be needed across high-spending departments.
When those surveyed were asked how confident they were that children’s services would be protected from further cuts, 30% said they were either confident or very confident and 57% said they were doubtful or very doubtful. This net confidence of -27% compares to -50% last year.
Two-thirds said they were doubtful or very doubtful that adult social care would be protected against cuts, while 22% said they were confident or very confident that further savings would not be required. The net confidence of -44% in 2018 compares to -60% last year.
Hover over interactive graphic for full percentage breakdown
Most responses to the survey were received before the announcement of an emergency cash injection for social care by the health secretary at the Conservative party conference last week. It was also sent out before Theresa May announced the borrowing cap for housing would be lifted – housing is another service area officers indicated would receive less attention when it comes to finding cuts than it has done in previous years.
social care green paper
Senior officers were specifically asked about potential cuts to special educational needs (SEN) transport and children’s centres for the first time this year and confidence is low that these areas of spending would be protected.
Respondents reported a net confidence of -76% for SEN transport and -80% for children’s centres.
Norfolk CC in September announced it is set to close 46 of its 53 children’s centres and create an outreach service to support vulnerable families.
Responses from senior officers working for county councils showed a -32% net confidence that children’s services would be protected from further cuts. However, net confidence falls to -77% specifically in relation to children’s centres.
Senior officers at metropolitan councils registered a net confidence of -22% that children’s services would be protected but a -100% net confidence that children’s centres would be protected.
Respondents working for London boroughs responded with a -50% net confidence that children’s services would be protected from cuts, with a -75% net confidence that spending on children centres would escape cuts.
Senior staff unitary councils reported a -36% net confidence that children’s services would be protected and a -71% net confidence that there would be no further cuts to children’s centres.
LGC research last month found counties overall are predicting the biggest unmet overspend (£152m) in 2018-19 followed by metropolitan councils (£123m). While London boroughs, like unitary councils, are collectively forecasting a combined £113m unmet overspend the capital’s councils have to find on average the second highest amount of extra savings (£4.6m).
Trading standards and libraries were the only service areas with a worse net confidence that cuts would be required than last year.
This year, there was a -73% net confidence that roads and highways would be subject to further savings, compared to -79%.
When asked to explain their responses, one chief executive said: “We have effective financial planning although this is getting extremely challenging now.”
Another said there had been a lack of “contingency planning”, while one chief executive added: “Good plans in place, though that’s not to say they won’t be difficult or involve cutting services that people rely on.”
The outcome of the fair funding review will have a big bearing on councils’ financial futures and their ability to fund services.
One chief executive said it was “difficult to say” if their council would be in a position where it might need to issue a section 114 notice “until we know the results of the national funding review and whether government will target local government for further cuts.” They added: “We have plans in place to balance up to 2021 on current forecasts.”
Another chief executive said that while their budget reduction plans are “robust” right now their council is “facing more challenges re: austerity that will result in service reduction”.
A total of 40% of all respondents said they believed their council would be worse off following the implementation of the fair funding review. Overall, just under half (46%) said they did not know whether their council would be worse off. The rest (14%) thought they would be better off.
The proportion of those who thought their council would be worse off rose to 78% for metropolitan councils, the highest figure of all council types while the lowest was for unitary councils with 21%.
With a move towards a greater retention of business rates, there is a big concern among councils about the potential impact of a decline of the retail economy in their area. Overall 82% said they were concerned or very concerned, with just 4% of respondents saying they were not concerned – the rest were neither concerned or unconcerned.
* Net confidence is the percentage of respondents who were either confident or very confident, minus those who were doubtful or very doubtful
Slight increase in confidence services will be protected