NLGN Leadership Index

Cuts force councils to neglect preventative services despite Government aspirations
29 January, 2019

  • A respected quarterly survey found a very significant gap between what council chief executives and leaders feel they should be spending on prevention and what they actually spend.
  • This gap equates to an £8.7bn shortfall in spending on prevention.
  • The news comes in the wake of the launch of two Government strategies designed to encourage a shift to greater prevention.

Local authorities across the UK are massively underspending on preventative services due to cuts according to a respected quarterly survey of all chief executives, leaders and mayors. The NLGN Leadership Index found that councils estimate they are currently spending 28 per cent of their resources on prevention. However, when asked to estimate what they would ideally be spending on prevention, the figure rises to 47 per cent. Plugging this gap would require an extra £8.7bn funding for local government.

The news will come as a blow to the Government which has recently launched its “Prevention is Better than Cure” strategy, which is designed to encourage a significant shift towards a preventative approach in public services. The goal was strongly reflected in the NHS Long Term Plan published just two weeks ago and will be the basis of a Green Paper on prevention planned for 2019.

There has long been concern in local government that preventative services were suffering as a result of austerity. The Early Intervention Grant for councils stood at £3.2bn in 2010 but was cut to £1.5bn by 2015. Spending on public health has fallen by £900m since 2014. And a 2018 National Audit Office report found that due to cuts, councils were increasingly focused on providing acute statutory services in social care at the expense of preventative services.

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

“The Government’s aspiration to shift towards prevention is admirable but this survey shows that underfunding local government will make that aspiration much harder and probably impossible to achieve.

“It is the height of irrational policy-making to invest £20.5bn in the NHS to enable a shift to prevention while starving councils of the £8.7bn they need to achieve the same goal.”

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 estimated cash injection of £8.7bn was calculated by NLGN based on the proportion of councils’ current and ideal spend on prevention. Total spending power on services by local authorities is calculated by subtracting education services, fire and rescue services, and police services from the total service expenditure of £89.8 bn, as published by MHCLG in the revenue expenditure and financing, 2017-18 final outturn.
  3. The survey was sent to 789 leaders, chief executives and council mayors across the UK. It was open between 3rd December and 17th December 2018. This latest survey had a 20.4 per cent response rate with 161 council chief executives and leaders taking part. Responses were received from all regions.
  4. Respondents were asked two questions about the level of council resources spent on prevention: what is it currently and what would it be ideally? Response as follows:

    Figure 13

  5. Proportion of councils’ resources used for prevention by local authority type as follows:

    Figure 14