Whatever the shape of the future, Government investing in neighbourhood public services is vital.
Neighbourhood services are universal public services experienced by communities at a local level. They are a core function of local government. They are made up of services such as maintaining local roads, providing parks, leisure centres and libraries, bin collections, recycling, and services that protect consumers like trading standards and environmental health. Since 2010/11, neighbourhood services have been the hardest hit of all local government services, taking a shrinking share of a shrinking budget. Over this period, the worst hit neighbourhood services in England have had spending cut by a half. Many have seen cuts of at least a quarter, and the most deprived local authorities in England have seen the biggest falls.
In a hard hitting new report, Redefining Neighbourhoods: Beyond austerity? APSE and the New Policy Institute (NPI) have found budgets for neighbourhood services are in a parlous state. The report finds:
• Neighbourhood services have been the hardest hit of all local government services. Spending on neighbourhood services in England fell £3.1bn or 13 per cent between 2010/11 and 2015/16 while spending on social care rose £2.2bn.
• The most deprived local authorities have seen the biggest fall in spending on neighbourhood services. Spending on neighbourhood services fell 22 per cent among the most deprived fifth of Local Councils over five years but only five per cent in better off areas.
• UK local government’s spending as a share of the economy is falling sharply. In 2010/11, UK local government current expenditure accounted for 8.4 per cent of the economy. By 2015/16, it had fallen to 6.7 per cent. By 2021/22, it will be down to 5.7 per cent - a 60 year low.
• By contrast, UK central government current expenditure has held up. For every £100 central government spent in 2010/11, local government spent £67. By 2018/19, it will be down to £50.
• The worst hit neighbourhood services have seen spending fall by 50 per cent, and most services have seen falls of at least 20 per cent. Across all English local councils, spending fell: by 41 to 50 per cent in three of the 40 individual neighbourhood services (including community development); by 31 to 40 per cent in four (including crime, safety and CCTV) and by 21 to 30 per cent in seven (including sport and recreation and road and bridge maintenance).
• Outcomes for the most deprived authorities in England are extraordinary. These include support for bus services down by two thirds; spending on crime reduction, safety and CCTV down by a half; road safety and school crossings down by a third; food and water safety down by a quarter. This is changing the very nature of local government.
Speaking about the report, APSE’s Chief Executive Paul O’Brien said “Whilst many are terming the forthcoming general election as the ‘Brexit Election’, we can’t afford to ignore the bread and butter neighbourhood issues. In eight years, local government spending will have dropped from two thirds of that of central governments’ to half. There is a slow but very harmful dismantling of neighbourhood services that marks a profound change in what local public services our communities can expect to receive.
“From emptying bins to running swimming pools to providing high quality local parks, spending on these services, which communities really value, has been cut harder and faster than any other area of public service spend. Centrally driven austerity has fallen hardest on local shoulders.”
Report author Dr Peter Kenway said, “If any other sector of the economy had shrunk from 10 per cent to seven per cent in a decade, it would be a huge cause for concern. It would provoke calls for something to be done. To give a sense of scale, just to allow local government to maintain its share of GDP, local government would need £15bn more by 2021/22 than it is projected to receive. This presents a fundamental risk to the future of local government neighbourhood services. Not only do neighbourhood services not get a fair share of the funding pie, the pie simply isn’t big enough.”
The report makes clear that whilst additional funding for social care is welcome neighbourhood services must not be neglected and account for 19% of total spend. Unlike social care, neighbourhood services are experienced by all citizens as soon as they step out of their front door. They are vital component of UK public services.
There is an urgent need for local councils and governments to recognise that neighbourhood services are a driver for local prosperity. With the right funding neighbourhood services are capable of being an integral part to boosting local economies by creating the right local environment to attract and retain businesses, jobs and skills in local areas. This is ever the more critical with changes to local council funding which will see far greater reliance on business rates and housing growth to bolster locally raised sources of income.
Spending on neighbourhood services also needs to reflect their value to community wellbeing. The provision of high quality local neighbourhood services has a positive impact on the perceptions of an area, encourages physical activity in a community setting and fosters a sense of well-being with citizens. High quality neighbourhood services are complementary to Social Care, Physical and Mental Health Services, Police and Fire Services, Education and Housing. All other services thrive better in neighbourhoods that are deemed to be well managed, clean and safe.
Neighbourhood services should be on an equal footing to other public services and not viewed as a painless option for more cuts in local spending. The decline in funding in the most deprived neighbourhoods risks undermining positive public policy attempts to ensure resources are directed to areas most in need, most especially as neighbourhood services are experienced by all citizens on a daily basis so cuts are felt most acutely at a local level.
You can view the report online here.
Mo Baines, APSE