The publication of the Welsh Government draft budget today shows that local public services will continue to face significant challenges. The increase shown on the face of the budget is due to transfers from other ministerial portfolios and this masks what is likely to be a worse position for local government. The detailed settlement for local government will be published next week.
It comes after a report by Wales Public Services 2025 laid bare the catastrophic impact that eight years of austerity have had on local public services. The cuts in the smaller but vital services that act as the bedrock of any civil society are breath taking. It is local government services that have become the “also-rans” of Welsh public services. Functions like transport, protection, culture, libraries, environmental services that have carried the weight of budget reductions.
Councillor Debbie Wilcox (Newport), WLGA Leader said:
“It is becoming harder and harder to find the words to describe how austerity is wearing down and eroding public services. Since becoming Leader of the WLGA, I have consistently stated that austerity is an idea ‘with a great future behind it’. The impact on our services, our communities that use them and the workforce that provide them has been devastating. My consistent message is that our services are a force for good, they are the cement which lock communities together.”
“Take a service like Economic Development, for example; at a time when we are trying to develop the city region agenda and regional approach, the service has been cut by over 60% since 2009. In terms of Environmental Health, which has been cut by over 40%, further budget cuts have the potential to seriously compromise the health and well-being of the most vulnerable members of society particularly in terms of food safety. All of these services are struggling, and it is our duty to campaign for them and protect them.”
“We look forward to working with the Welsh Government on its provisional local government settlement next week. I know that the Cabinet Secretary Mark Drakeford is facing difficult choices and seeking fairness in budget outcomes. We hope to see social services and education treated with parity with the NHS and recognise that crucial role of preventative services in keeping people out of hospital”
Councillor Anthony Hunt (Torfaen), WLGA Spokesperson for Finance and Resources said:
“Local services are at a crossroads and there are difficult times ahead. We want to work together with the Welsh Government and call on the UK Government to rethink its austerity approach – nothing less than the survival of local services is at stake. My belief is that further reductions will lead to diminution and withdrawal of services that will impact on everyone including the most vulnerable in society. There is already an emerging public backlash against cuts.”
“Local government is facing a cumulative shortfall of over £760m by 2021-22 with cost and demands pressures increasing by around 4% each year. Since the onset of austerity local authorities have had to absorb these costs. The belief that austerity works has collapsed, to the point where hardly anyone still believes it. In effect, for some services, we have witnessed a prolonged seven-year ‘closing down sale’”.
“We are also arguing that our funding arrangements are made more flexible and that we are given a multi-year deal. We will see the detail of the local government settlement next week and will see how that measures up to what we believe local services need.”