Spending on neighbourhood services – the transport, housing, cultural, regulatory and planning services delivered by local authorities in England – has been cut very sharply. Spending on these services is 28% lower in real terms than it was in 2009/10, although the pace of cuts slowed last year following a temporary cash boost for local authorities.
Despite these spending cuts, public satisfaction with libraries, road maintenance and waste collection services has declined only slightly, while indicators of the effectiveness of regulatory services like food safety and trading standards has held up. This suggests that local authorities have managed to deliver broadly similar services as in 2010.
The absence of much centrally collected data means that it is unclear whether local authorities will be able to maintain performance levels. For example, unlike for other public services, it is not possible to monitor whether local authorities are facing growing problems of staff recruitment or retention. The National Audit Office has expressed concerns that several neighbourhood services – including road maintenance and trading standards – are “high-risk areas” in the medium term.
The government has plans to implement a Fair Funding Review and to extend business rates retention – which will change the distribution of funding between local areas – but there are no plans to increase overall funding. With rising demand for social care for children and adults, local authorities will either have to raise council tax or cut spending on neighbourhood services to ensure they meet their legal obligation to run a balanced budget unless additional money is provided by central government.