Over the past decade, (with a short break during the pandemic), LGIU has conducted a finance survey involving council leaders, chief executives, 151 officers and cabinet members across every local authority in England. The results tell a grim story that will be recognisable to anyone working in local government today. In 2023, confidence in the sustainability of local government finances reached a new low, with only 14% of senior council figures saying they were confident.
The conclusions from these results are important. They indicate that local government finances are in a difficult position and it isn’t getting any better, that adult social care and children’s services are severe pressures, that councils are concerned they will be unable to fulfil their statutory obligations, and that they are pulling every lever available to make ends meet. The three local authorities that have issued section 114 notices since we published these results are further evidence of a serious, systemic issue in local government finances.
In 2023, we took another step by replicating our survey in Scotland. The results were equally concerning. Only a single respondent said they were confident in the sustainability of council finances. The difficulties experienced in England were mirrored in Scotland, but with more concern over the ring-fencing of local authority budgets, and widespread condemnation of the Scottish government’s decision to freeze council tax without consultation. The survey in Scotland allowed us to repeat our diagnosis of England, finding that the details were different but that the main story – of a sector without the resources it needs – was the same.
With our 2024 survey in England, we want to go beyond this story. We want to dig deeper into a few of the most difficult problems facing local authorities, such as the crisis in workforce recruitment and retention, to understand the causes and consequences of the problems we already know exist. We want to see local government’s perspective on the human impact of service cuts. We want to move beyond the headlines about the small number of councils issuing section 114 notices, to see the more important story of an entire sector working under serious pressure.
Beyond this, we also want to understand how things could be different. This year is likely to be the year of a general election and, perhaps, a new government. What do they need to know about local government finances, and what do they need to do about it? How do we move from where we are now to where we need to be? Building on the work of the LGIU@40 manifesto, we need to shine a light on the ways to fix the system.
We will be releasing the survey in the next few weeks. In the meantime, please let me know if you’d like to see anything in the survey by emailing me at [email protected].
And, if you see the survey arrive in your inbox, please fill it in! Without your support, this work is not possible.
If you are an LGIU member interested in local government finance, please sign up for our upcoming talk on the state of local government finance in England, where I will be talking through our latest survey results.