NLGN Leadership Index

Most local authorities will only deliver the bare minimum in five years’ time
9 August, 2018

Northamptonshire is just the beginning: most local authorities will only deliver the bare minimum in five years’ time

  • Only one third of councils feel they will financially be able to provide discretionary services beyond 2023 and may cut back to the legal minimum.
  • Communities are facing the loss of essential services – with libraries, parks and museums facing further cuts and more closures across the UK.
  • Local authorities with social care responsibilities are facing the biggest struggles and are more pessimistic about their ability to deliver more than the bare minimum – with 88 per cent indicating they will not be able to provide discretionary services in five years’ time.
  • Social care-providing councils’ confidence in their ability to deliver statutory responsibilities is falling, especially in adult social care and children’s services.

In the wake of Northamptonshire, the New Local Government Network’s second Leadership Index survey has revealed confidence in councils’ power and resources to deliver discretionary services is falling nationwide. More than 70 per cent of council Leaders, Chief Executives and Mayors have indicated they will not be able to continue to provide these essential services beyond the next five years if funding settlements for councils remain as tight as they have been since 2010.

NLGN’s research reveals that stripping back to the legal minimum is a real possibility for many, with the unprecedented funding cuts making it impossible for cash-strapped local authorities to deliver core services – including libraries, parks and museums. With councils paring back to the bare minimum, there is a real possibility of either outright closures or charging for these essential services.

Across all types of local authority, Labour-led councils are the most pessimistic – with 83 per cent, compared to 63 across Conservative-led councils, indicating that they will not be able to continue to provide discretionary services beyond the next five years. However the picture significantly changes when the focus is solely placed on social-care providing councils; there is little difference in confidence between the two main political parties, with 88 per cent overall indicating they will not be able to provide discretionary services in five years’ time. This shows that the majority of social care-providing upper-tier local authorities are feeling the pinch across the country.

The survey findings also reveal the deepening pressures on statutory services, in particular social care. Council leaders, chief executives and mayors are losing confidence in the delivery of all services, but the outlook for adult social care and children’s services is particularly bleak. Respondents to NLGN’s survey scored their confidence in these vital services at only 35 and 39 respectively on a scale of 0-100 – a six and four-point drop since March. This evidence is cause for concern, with local authorities having to protect the most vulnerable children and elderly while stripping back to the bone.

Adam Lent, Director of the New Local Government Network, said:

“In the next five years we could be seeing areas stripped of their libraries and park maintenance, with roads full of potholes. Crucial advice services offered to those in receipt of care or social housing are likely to be a thing of the past. These are the things that build communities, address important needs and broaden opportunity.

“This should be a sober wake-up call for a government that is overseeing a country with ever deepening social divisions and growing inequality. Councils are best placed to tackle these problems, and should be receiving greater investment to do this, not seeing their services stripped to the bare minimum.”

The NLGN Leadership Index is a survey of leaders, chief executives and mayors of local authorities across the UK first published in March 2018. It provides a platform for councils to express their level of confidence in delivering key services and the overall experience of their community.

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Molly Jarritt, External Affairs Officers at NLGN, on 07714 448036 or mjarritt@nlgn.org.uk.
2. The survey was carried out from 7th June to 2nd July 2018. 191 council leaders, chief executives and mayors completed the survey, which translates to a 25 per cent response rate. Survey responses were received from all UK regions apart from Northern Ireland.
3. NLGN’s Leadership Index is divided into two sections. The first changes with each survey to reflect an area of current interest and relevance, with this survey focusing on discretionary service provision and outsourcing. In the second, respondents were asked a series of twelve recurring questions on how confident they are that there are sufficient powers and resources to meet certain key needs in the local area: adult social care, children’s services, environmental services, housing, economic development and health and wellbeing.
4. Respondents indicate their confidence levels on a scale of 0 to 100, 0 being not at all confident and 100 being very confident.
5. By discretionary services, we refer to those services that an authority has the power but not a duty to provide.
6. Regarding discretionary services, participants were asked: ‘In March 2018, the National Audit Office concluded that under current financial trajectories, councils will soon only be able to provide a narrow core offer of statutory services as discretionary services disappear due to lack of funds. If there is no change in the funding available to your council, how long do you feel you will be able to continue to provide discretionary services?’. The response options were: 0-1 year; 1-2 years; 2-3 years; 3-4 years; 4-5 years; Over 5 years.
7. Confidence in the delivery of services has also fallen across all areas surveyed since the start of the year. On a scale of 0 (lowest) to 100 (highest), confidence levels for each service area have fallen as follows:

  • Adult social care: Confidence fallen from 41.5 to 35.3
  • Children’s services: Confidence fallen from 43.4 to 39.2
  • Housing: Confidence fallen from 54.3 to 48.8
  • Environment: Confidence fallen from 60.4 to 55.7
  • Economic development: Confidence fallen from 65.3 to 61.6
  • Health and wellbeing: Confidence fallen from 55.2 to 50.7

Graph 1

8. Breakdown in confidence across top-tier councils in the future of discretionary services by political leadership is as follows:Graph 2


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