Local government is warning that another round of potential cuts to its finances in 2015-16 will see swathes of public service closures across Wales.
Having originally been provided with an indicative figure suggesting councils would experience a 1.5% further cut to their budgets in 2015-16, Welsh Government has now indicated that authorities should plan for levels of up to -4.5%, not least because of the significant demands and pressures facing the NHS in Wales.
The revised figure was presented to local councils in a letter from the Minister for Local Government, Lesley Griffiths AM, which also warned local councils that further cuts of this scale could be expected to follow in future years.
During the current financial year, local councils have managed a collective £250 million budget shortfall that has already led to tough choices and intensive public debate. The question for councils now, is what will the consequences be if this scale of cuts continues into the future?
Cllr Bob Wellington CBE (Torfaen), Leader of the WLGA said:
“The recent letter from Welsh Government confirming a continuation of English style cuts is a daunting prospect for Welsh councils, and a debate needs to occur in Wales about the future direction of public services. With the NHS continuing to draw down ever greater levels of finance, this squeezes everything else. I spoke openly last week at the WLGA conference that at this rate local government will become an empty vessel, and services treasured by the public will be wiped off the map.
“By 2018 local councils could be managing a potential budget shortfall of up to £900 million, and we urgently require an open public debate about the role and value of local government and local public services. What we need to see is a continuation of the relative protection that Welsh Government has afforded local councils in the past, as we work to strategically reshape our local services so that they can meet the significant demands that will be placed on them in the future.
“This latest indication supports our view that a complete recasting of the expectations of Welsh Government for local councils must occur. A promised reorganisation of local government some six years away will do nothing to assist this. A new reality must now prevail in terms of what councils can realistically be expected to deliver.”
Cllr Aaron Shotton (Flintshire), WLGA Spokesperson for Finance said:
“Make no mistake, the announcement that local government in Wales faces such a drastic cut to its budget in 2015-16 means it is only a matter of time before the delivery of local public services in Wales reaches a crisis point. It is with great regret that the WLGA must now point out that the public can expect ‘more of the same’ in terms of the impacts on their local services, as local government continues to bear the brunt of austerity in Wales.
“Whilst we all appreciate the problems within our hospitals, as the latest report from the Auditor General for Wales shows, it is vital that the NHS gets to grips with its own budget deficits. Such drastic cuts to local government finance also means that we are in danger of cutting those core preventative services that actually keep people out of hospital in the first place.
“Closing a leisure centre significantly impacts on public health and can exacerbate problems like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. There is a significant correlation between poor housing and poor health. The cost of keeping people in their homes through social care is a far less expensive option than them languishing in a hospital bed. Cutting local government means cutting preventative services, and is simply ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ in the long run.”