Today the Government set out the detail of what local councils in England will have to spend in 2016. Here we explore what this means for the National Trust in relation to our new strategy, which commits us to help secure the future of the special places which matter to people most.
November’s Spending Review signalled a significant change for the future of local government finance, setting out a future where 100% of council spending is raised locally, through business rates and council tax, while phasing out central Government funding for councils (currently 80% of their budget) by 2020. Today’s Local Government Finance Settlement tells us a bit more about what that means in practice.
Overall there is predicted to be a 6.7% real terms funding cut for England’s local authorities to 2020. The Local Government Association’s (LGA) response to the Spending Review touched upon the continuing difficulties councils will face in the wake of the cuts and stressed that the consequences for our local communities should not be underestimated.
“Even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres and turned off every street light they will not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face by 2020”.
Lord Porter, Chairman of the Local Government Association
However, responding to the Finance Settlement today, Lord Porter struck an altogether more upbeat tone:
“The government has listened to what councils said we need and has delivered. More independence to serve our communities, a fair financial settlement for all types of councils, more resources to help care for the elderly and the certainty of long-term budgets; things we have asked of successive governments. This settlement should mark the beginning of a new age of independence and responsibility for local councils. In local government we will make a success of it, building on the hard work of the last five years.
“Councils will be in greater control of their own destiny. It is an exciting time to be a councillor and this reform gives us all the biggest chance for a generation to serve our residents in a way that we know best.”
In the Spending Review Government also announced plans to allow councils to sell off their assets – which often takes the form of land or buildings – and use 100% of the proceeds to help with revenue or reform projects. We heard some more about how this will work today. The criteria for what projects the money can be spent in is fairly loose. This measure could provide opportunities for councils to move to more sustainable ways of funding services, but could pose risks where councils own land or buildings which are valued by a local community.
Our blog in September outlined why all of this matters to the National Trust. Councils often care for spaces and places that matter to people, like parks and green space, or local heritage. We also rely on local authority’s planning departments being adequately resourced and having the right levels of expertise on ecology, archaeology, conservation and heritage, to help us look after National Trust places, but also the wider countryside, coast and beautiful urban landscapes.
Our co-founder Octavia Hill passionately believed in protecting and improving the quality of places that people live, work and play in. Our strategy until 2025 commits us to playing our part in protecting the special places which matters to people most. Funding for local parks services may fall by 60% or more by 2020 and the selling off of public assets could affect local heritage like libraries, civic buildings and green spaces which can be a source of pride for the local community.
As this country transitions to a system where money is raised and spent locally, areas with more needs but smaller council tax bases and business rates incomes may end up with less funding. We’re concerned about the additional pressure this will place on necessary funding for planning departments, local parks services and the inevitable result of greater pressure to sell off public assets which might also be important local heritage. We’ll be monitoring the situation carefully and are exploring how to give our support to local authorities, charities and communities in how to manage local heritage and green space, drawing on our experience of the day-to-day care of our own special places.