But this year authorities are going to need a particular form of dexterity bordering on acrobatics to balance their books.
Central grant and council tax revenue added together haven’t quite filled all the coffers, particularly when large swathes of services have never been fully funded - take adult care.
The returns on investments and income from charges, particularly parking in urban areas, have helped make up the difference, balance central government policy and keep jobs and front-line services intact. But that was 12 months ago. Then we could depend on stable interest rates, consistent consumer spending and far fewer public demands.
Today, the sums don’t quite add up. Interest rates were cut to 1% on Friday, the lowest for 300 years, removing around£600m from local government’s expected investment returns.
There’s the hangover from the Iceland debacle, with some councils still waiting to see if their cash will ever be released. Fewer residents are paying charges and council tax and more want debt counselling, housing and service support.
At the same time, the government is urging councils to support business and residents while meeting efficiency demands and keeping council tax increases “substantially below” 5%.
There are already councils sailing close to the wind at 4.9%. It says a lot about their predicament that they’d risk capping and the cost of reissuing bills, but there is little alternative. Something somewhere has to give.
Despite the positive message that councils are stepping in to help smooth the recession, there is only so much they can do. If councils are not to be left as a scapegoat for a poor finance system that is shamefully inflexible then we have to be realistic about what it can do.
The government has mistakenly raised public expectations that it can control this recession and mitigate all its effects. It can’t. And neither can local government.