The government has pencilled in 15 March as the date of the next UK budget announcement but, as councils prepare their budgets for 2023/24, the extent of the financial crisis facing the sector becomes ever more evident as Thurrock Council effectively declared bankruptcy with the issuing of a section 114 notice just before Christmas.
Wakefield Council announced this month that it will have to raise council tax by the maximum allowed (4.99%) and make £14m of cuts to services and possibly increase parking charges and fees for leisure services to meet its budget shortfall.
Slough borough council has asked the government if it can raise council tax by more than the legal limit, without holding a referendum, for the next two years after it was forced to issue a section 114 notice last year.
This week, Southend, York, Rutland, Thanet, Waltham Forest, Cornwall, Dudley and Bristol City councils also announced that they will be increasing parking charges to help balance their books next year.
Also this week, the Sunday Telegraph predicts that, with the allowed increase in council tax and police authority precepts, as many as 255 districts (83%) may be charging over £2000 in council tax for Band D properties next year.
Last week, analysis reported in The Times, identified the substantial variations in council tax across the country, with residents in the north paying 20% more than residents in London boroughs, irrespective of the huge difference in the property prices across those regions. Northern councils have drawn attention to the fact that funding formulas involving business rates are favouring authorities in more affluent areas of the country.
No UK government, in recent times, has relished the challenge of addressing the regional inequalities of local taxation and funding formulas for local authorities but, with the current cost of living crisis and the focus on levelling up, perhaps now is the time to do so?
Cost of living crisis
This week, analysis by the Resolution Foundation suggests that the average household will be £2,100 worse off by the end of the next financial year.
Last week, London Councils published research that looked at the role of local authorities in providing local welfare assistance (LWA) schemes and called on the government to re-establish ring-fenced, long term funding for local authorities’ LWA schemes, which was abolished in 2015/16.
Refugees and asylum seekers
In December, the Independent reported that protections for asylum seekers held in short term processing centres have been ‘quietly rewritten’ by the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, including increasing the time that migrants can be held in the centres and watering down other obligations and rights.
Also last month, a High Court judge ruled that seaside hotels in Great Yarmouth could not be used to house refugees and asylum seekers due to the fact that a specific council planning policy prevented those hotels to be used as hostels, to protect the tourism industry in the town. This week, East Lindsey district council has submitted a pre-action letter to the Home Office, on the same basis as the Great Yarmouth legal action, over the use of five hotels in Skegness.
This week, the Independent reported that almost 3,000 Ukrainian refugees have presented as homeless to councils in England since February 2022. The report notes the difference in funding for local authorities in respect of those Ukrainian refugees who arrive via the Homes for Ukraine Scheme as opposed to those who arrive via the Family Scheme.
Next week we will be publishing a new briefing on refugees and asylum seekers, looking at the challenges and opportunities for councils in addressing the problem.
At the end of December, the government announced a devolution deal for North East England, covering Northumberland, Newcastle, Sunderland, North Tyneside and County Durham, with a hand over of powers on skills, education, transport and housing, in a deal worth £1.4bn over 30 years. The new mayor will be elected in 2024.
This week, the government has announced two regions – East Anglia and Liverpool – as freeport economic zones, with £25m each in seed funding. Freeport East and Liverpool City Region Freeport will be able to offer tax and duty breaks to encourage business activity.
Last week, the LGIU published a briefing looking at the New Britain report, produced by the commission chaired by Gordon Brown, that proposed new devolution deals for England.
Housing and homelessness
This week, Shelter has reported that at least 271,000 people were homeless in England on any given night last year, almost half of which were children. This figure encompasses some 2,400 people sleeping rough, some 15,000 people in hostels or supported accommodation and nearly 250,000 people living in temporary accommodation.
Last week, analysis by the Office for National Statistics revealed that more than 700,000 people in England and Wales, some 10% of whom are elderly and suffering from long-term health conditions, are living in homes with no central heating this winter. At the same time the LGIU published a briefing on how the UK falls short of providing adequate housing for older people.
The latest LGIU housing and planning round-up can be read here:
Health and social care
This week we learnt that 50,000 more people died last year than normal, even accounting for Covid deaths. There are various theories as to the increase in deaths but most point towards a broken health service.
Does anyone really care whether the Prime Minister uses the NHS or private health care? As long as the NHS is fit for purpose then I’m sure we would all be happier if those that can afford private healthcare were not adding to the queues in our GP surgeries and paying their own healthcare costs.
On Times Radio the former Conservative Health Minister of the 1980s, Kenneth Clarke, stated that well-off patients should be charged to see GPs and for undergoing minor procedures.
Is it time to revisit the free healthcare for all policy that underpins the NHS? An assessment of personal financial resources was brought into the financing of social care provision a long time ago.
The latest LGIU monthly round-up of health and social care can be read here:
As we learnt this week that the average annual temperature of 10.03 degrees Celsius was the highest average temperature in the UK since records began, we saw flood warnings issued in Worcestershire, Shropshire, York and Chester.
This week the government announced that sustainable drainage has to be included in new building developments from 2024 – about time!
Also announced this week, plastic cutlery and plates are to be banned by the end of this year – again, not before time!
A new coal mine in Cumbria? Really?!
So we learnt that the UK hasn’t put a rocket into space. Yet. As Seneca the younger put it “non est ad astra mollis e terris via” (‘there is no easy way from the earth to the stars’).