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Planning and highways spending slashed

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Planning and highways have seen the largest reductions in spending, according to the latest local government financial data published on Thursday.

Expenditure on planning services fell by 13.2% between 2011-12 and 2012-13 while spending on highways and transport services fell by 9.5% over the same period.

The cut in spending on services linked to growth, a number one priority for the government, contrasts with much smaller cuts in social care spending and increases in spending on housing benefit costs.

Trudi Elliott CBE, chief executive of the RTPI, said: “Increasingly, we are being told by our members in the private sector that many council planning departments are so stretched that it affects the speed at which their clients can develop, build and get things done.

“Both the loss of experience and expertise and lack of enough recruitment of young new talent in local authorities reduce their ability to shape and maintain the successful places where people want to work live and visit. It reduces their ability to engage their citizens in the choices affecting them.

“We do understand the very difficult budget decisions that councils are facing, and have strongly and repeatedly made the case to the Treasury and to DCLG that good planning is fundamental to delivering the growth, jobs, housing, infrastructure and successful places that the country needs.

“Good planning needs adequate resourcing. Despite these tough financial conditions there are councils responding well, collaboratively and creatively local authority planners are striving to maintain delivery. Delivering an effective and efficient planning service is in our view a key to success for a local authority and its area both now and for future generations.”

The LGA has previously warned that the combination of growing demand for social care services and significant funding cuts would mean spending in other areas, such as planning and highways, would be squeezed harder and harder.

Social care spending fell by just 0.2%. However that masked a different story for children’s social care, where spending increased by 2.8%, and adult social care, where spending fell by 1.4%.

Other areas of increased spending were housing benefit costs, which increased by almost 5%.

Although education spending fell by 7.7%, government statisticians warned that comparisons should not be made over the two years because the reduction was caused by academies leaving local authority control.

While total revenue expenditure fell by 5% between 2011-12 and 2012-13, the reduction was just 0.2% once changes to education responsibilities and funding were removed from the comparison.

The figures also show that councils increased their reserve levels by £1.7bn, not including a £0.9bn addition to the Greater London Authority’s reserves.

However, there were a quarter of councils which did not add to reserves and ended the year with less in the bank.

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