Union highlights impact of austerity cuts to local services

UNISON has highlighted the true scale of almost a decade of savage austerity cuts to local communities across Britain, including the impact of huge reductions in council funding.

A series of freedom of information requests examined the changes in local services between 2010 and 2019 for several key council services, including youth centres, public toilets, libraries and subsidised bus routes. It found that central government cuts have led to a 17 per cent fall in council spending on local services in England since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. In that time, grant funding for councils in England has been reduced by £16 billion and there have also been significant cuts for councils in Wales and Scotland.

Using data for 330 local authorities, UNISON says that 859 children’s centres and family hubs have been closed, while 940 youth centres have been lost. Additionally, 21 per cent of public toilets have closed, with more than 835 public conveniences disappearing since the Conservatives came to power.

The figures also indicate that the number of council-subsidised bus routes has decreased by 32 per cent, a reduction of more than 1,224 services, increasing the isolation of many living in rural communities. Lastly, 22 per cent of libraries have either closed, been privatised or are now staffed by volunteers. This is a decrease of 738 council-run libraries. Over the past decade there’s been a ten-fold rise in the number run by volunteers, up from 21 to 227.

Dave Prentis, UNISON general secretary, said: “The scale of the cuts is both breathtaking and disturbing. Each cut has a major impact on a community, whether it’s a pensioner feeling isolated in their home because they can’t get a bus or people being unable to borrow books or use the internet in local libraries.The widespread axeing of youth centres has left many young people with nowhere to turn at crucial points in their lives.

“Squeezed budgets have forced councils to make impossible decisions. No local authority wants to cut the services it offers but with much less funding coming from Westminster, they’ve often had little choice. It’s vulnerable people and those least able to fend for themselves who suffer most. This is the shocking legacy of nine years of Tory spending cuts. People should think about the services lost to their communities when they cast their vote on polling day.”