Council funding cuts ‘putting key services at risk’

Peter Box after announcing budget proposals' 'LOCATION:  Wakefield Town Hall '
Peter Box after announcing budget proposals' 'LOCATION: Wakefield Town Hall '
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COUNCILS could be in danger of breaking the law because Government funding cuts are putting crucial services at risk, according to a new report.

The Public Accounts Committee of MPs warns that the squeeze on some authorities, particularly those serving deprived areas, has reached the point where councils may soon be unable to provide services they are obliged to by law, such as protecting children.

Its report says the Department of Communities and Local Government has no clear way of assessing the impact of cuts on key services or whether councils are at risk of going bust.

According to the cross-party group of MPs, councils have seen their funding from Government cut by up to 40 per cent since 2010 with authorities serving deprived areas hit the most.

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: “Further cuts could not just undermine the entire viability of most optional services, but might threaten some statutory services in these areas.”

The committee’s report warns that the Government does not properly understand how cuts in council services can impact on other parts of the public sector such as reduced social care leading to more ‘bed-blocking’ in the NHS.

The report has been published as Wakefield and Kirklees Councils became the latest authorities in the region to set out budget plans involving major savings.

Wakefield Council figures suggest that on current trends the amount the district spends on its legal duty to protect children and care for adults will swallow up its entire budget within the next five years as demand increases and Government funding falls.

Wakefield Council leader Peter Box said: “People need to understand the seriousness of this and the Government needs to address the future of both adult care and care for children otherwise we are facing a crisis of huge proportions.

“There would be no other money left for other services on current projections of need and income.”

The council yesterday unveiled plans to cut 100 jobs and increase council tax by just under two per cent as it tries to save £38 million from its budget this year.

Kirklees Council is proposing to increase its council tax by 1.95 per cent as it tries to fill a £30 million funding gap in its budget for the year ahead.

But Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins, the Keighley MP, dismissed the criticism.

He said: “We have continued to deliver a fair settlement to every part of the country – north and south, rural and urban, city and shire – and the truth is that councils have continued to balance their budgets while public satisfaction with services has been maintained.”

He said every part of the public sector had to do its bit to tackle the budget deficit.