Spending on neighbourhood services continued to fall in the past year, reflecting local authority spending cuts. Local authorities have managed this by prioritising visible and critical aspects of services – such as health-critical food hygiene inspections – over aspects with fewer immediate impacts. Where that has not been enough, they have, in some cases, reduced service provision – such as reducing the number of libraries.
Public satisfaction with neighbourhood services has held up, indicating that they have become more efficient – delivering the same quality despite financial pressures. But declines in local authorities’ unallocated reserves since 2014/15 suggest that councils are increasingly unable to manage spending cuts by making efficiencies and are instead drawing on one-off sources of money to balance their budgets.
For full citations and further details see the neighbourhood services chapter from Performance Tracker 2018. This analysis is drawn from Performance Tracker, produced by the Institute for Government in partnership with CIPFA.
1. Day-to-day spending on neighbourhood services fell by 20-40% between 2009/10 and 2017/18.
- Cuts have been more pronounced in some neighbourhood services than in others. Since 2009/10, libraries have borne real-terms day-to-day spending cuts of 41%. Monitoring of trading standards has seen a 39% spending cut, road maintenance 29%, food safety 28%, health and safety 29% and waste collection 19%.
- But demand for neighbourhood services has grown as the population has increased. The number of people in England has increased by 6.6% between 2009/10 and 2017/18.
2. Councils have started using their reserves to top up spending.
- In the early years of austerity, local authorities increased their reserves – putting money aside for more difficult times. They increased their usable reserves by 54% in real terms between 2009/10 and 2015/16.
- But reserve levels fell by 5% between 2015/16 and 2016/17. Unplanned withdrawals – where local authorities used reserves without budgeting to or use more reserves than they budgeted to – increased from £114m in 2010/11 to £658m in 2016/17.
3. Income from sales, fees and charges provided 8.2% of spending on six neighbourhood services in 2017/18.
- Users are shouldering more of the burden for paying for services. This is an increase from 6.5% in 2009/10. In trading standards and waste collection, the share of spending financed by charging has increased by 4 percentage points.
- Local authorities charge for services that they are not legally obligated to provide. The number of authorities charging for garden waste collection rose from 88 to 199 between 2010/11 and 2017/18; the number offering free garden waste collection fell from 236 to 137. In food safety, charges are typically for ‘non-statutory advice’ (local authorities cannot charge for official inspections).
4. Between 2009/10 and 2017/18, the number of full-time equivalent library staff declined by 38%.
- In 2009/10, 20% of paid staff occupied professional library posts, compared with 15% in 2017/18.
- Local authorities have increased their reliance on volunteers. The number of library volunteers increased by 187% between 2009/10 and 2017/18. The number of volunteer hours tripled over this period, increasing from 500,000 to almost 1.7m.
5. The number of professionally qualified food standards and food hygiene staff declined by 60% and 17% between 2009/10 and 2017/18.
- Fewer staff are covering more businesses. The number of professionally qualified staff per 1,000 food establishments declined from 4.4 in 2009/10 to 2.9 in 2017/18.
- And they are undertaking more interventions. On average, food hygiene staff completed 246 interventions each in 2017/18, an increase of 23 since 2009/10. Food standards staff completed 328 interventions each in 2017/18, more than double the number in 2009/10.
- Trading standards and health and safety have seen similarly large staff reductions. The number of full-time equivalent trading standards officers fell by 56% between 2009 and 2016 (from 3,534 to 1,561). The number of inspectors with health and safety powers in English, Welsh and Scottish authorities declined 48% (from 1,050 to 543) between 2009/10 to 2016/17.
6. There were 17% fewer libraries in 2017/18 than in 2009/10.
- Libraries are now open for fewer hours. Total library opening hours, excluding mobile libraries, declined between 2009/10 and 2017/18. The number of libraries open 30 hours or more a week decreased by 17%, while the number of libraries open less than 29 hours a week increased 6%
- Remaining libraries are increasingly being run by communities. In 2017/18, local authority-run libraries made up 75% of all libraries, compared with 89% in 2012/13. For the years where we have consistent data, the share of community-managed libraries increased from 4% to 12% between 2009/10 and 2016/17.
- This trend looks set to continue. 13 of the 23 new libraries that opened in 2016 were run by councils, compared with 21 out of 24 in 2010.
7. The number of councils providing weekly residential waste collections fell by over 40% (from 152 to 87) between 2010/11 and 2017/18.
- Waste collection has not been replaced with more recycling. Between 2013/14 and 2017/18, the only years for which we have data, the number of councils providing weekly dry recycling collections declined.
8. The share of food hygiene interventions completed on time has declined only slightly and has consistently remained above 80%.
- In food safety, local authorities have prioritised their efforts on the most critical interventions. The share of less health-critical standards interventions completed on time has fallen from 62% to 37%.
- The waiting list for inspection has declined. 5.4% of food establishments were waiting to be inspected and rated for food hygiene in England in 2017/18 compared to 7.3% in 2009/10.
- The quality of food safety services has not declined. The share of ‘broadly compliant establishments’ increased slightly from 88.6% in 2009/10 to 89.8% in 2017/18, and the number of consumer complaints about food establishments was flat between 2010/11 and 2015/16
- Health and safety have targeted inspections at the riskiest businesses. Between 2009/10 and 2016/17 the total number of annual health and safety visited carried out in Great Britain declined by 59%. Proactive and planned inspections declined 94% between 2009/10 and 2016/17 while visits following requests or complaints declined only 33%.
9. The proportion of roads considered in need of maintenance decreased between 2009/10 and 2017/18.
- Local authorities have kept up their road maintenance. Between 2009/10 and 2017/18, the number of miles of B, C and unclassified roads’ receiving some maintenance in a year remained broadly flat. The number of miles of ‘A roads’ receiving maintenance also remained broadly flat, although most of this activity was in short-term ‘surface-dressing’ treatments.
- The national picture of road quality is positive. The share of all local roads which the Department for Transport reports should be considered for maintenance has declined.
- But other indicators show a decline. The share of ‘unclassified’ roads which the Department for Transport reports should be considered for maintenance has increased. The Asphalt Industry Alliance estimates that the share of roads in ‘poor condition’ has increased over the past two years, and public satisfaction with road maintenance fell from 46% to 32% between September 2012 and June 2018.
10. People's satisfaction with waste collection and libraries has largely held up.
- Satisfaction has largely held up for other services. Public satisfaction with waste collection fell by 6% (from 83% to 77%, satisfaction with libraries fell by 7% (from 67% to 60%). Where the public has felt a reduction in the quality of neighbourhood services, it has not been on the same scale as spending cuts, implying substantial efficiency gains.