Cities hit twice as hard by austerity with north disproportionately affected

Cities have been hit twice as hard by austerity than elsewhere in the UK, an urban think tank said.

Almost three-quarters (74%) of cuts to local government funding over the last decade have fallen on cities, according to an annual report by the Centre for Cities.

This equates to a loss of £386 per city dweller since 2009/10, compared to £172 per person elsewhere, it said.

The think tank, which aims to help UK cities “realise their economic potential”, said this was despite being home to just 54% of the population.

Northern English cities have been disproportionately affected, with their spending cut on average by a fifth, while cities in the south and east of England had average losses of 9%.

Barnsley was found to have been hit hardest, with a 40% reduction in its day-to-day council spending.

Per resident, Liverpool was worst affected, with an £816 reduction to council services’ funding for every person living in the city.

Services that councils are not legally obliged to deliver, such as planning, libraries and cultural activities, have seen the deepest cuts overall.

The report, Cities Outlook 2019, also found that rising social care demands were adding to the pressure on councils’ finances.

Ten years ago, just four out of 62 cities spent the majority of their budget on social care, compared to almost half now.

And, reflecting on the last 12 months, the report found it ironic that the dominance of Brexit had “drowned out any policy that would help improve the economies of those places that voted to leave”.

It described cities as being in “limbo”, paralysed by a lack of clarity over future funding.

Centre for Cities chief executive Andrew Carter said: “Councils have managed as best they can but the continued singling-out of local government for cuts cannot continue.

“There is a very real risk that many of our largest councils will in the near future become little more than social care providers.

“Fairer funding must mean more funding for cities.”

The think tank is calling for the upcoming Spending Review to address the financial challenges facing cities and give local authorities more say over how they raise and spend funds.

Shadow communities and local government secretary Andrew Gwynne said: “The Tories have shamefully stripped back funding for local authorities, leaving many councils on the brink of collapse and the vital public services that people rely on at breaking point.

“Councils have now lost 60p out of every £1 that the last Labour government invested in our communities.

“The Government must stop targeting deprived areas with their politically motivated cuts and provide sustainable funding for councils to protect our local services.”

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said: “We are investing in Britain’s future by providing local authorities with £91.5 billion over the next two years to meet the needs of their residents.

“This coming year local government is getting £1 billion extra in funding – a real terms increase – to strengthen services and support local communities.”

“On top of this, we are delivering on our vision for a strong Northern Powerhouse economy with wide-ranging support including a historic £13 billion investment to improve journeys for commuters and motorists and over £5 billion for Devolution and Growth Deals.

“With a record number of people in work and over 200,000 more businesses today than in 2010 the North continues to perform strongly.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andy Buchanan / PA Wire.