Almost all English local authorities to increase council tax, ITV News learns

Allegra Stratton

Former National Editor

Almost all local councils in England will increase council tax over the next year as a new survey seen by ITV News shows local government finances reaching breaking point.

In a sign that some councils can no longer protect core services for the vulnerable from cuts, nearly a third of councils intend to reduce adult social care and a quarter to reduce children's services.

Last year Northamptonshire council declared bankruptcy and a number of other councils threatened collapse as local councils of all political colours struggled with a reduction in funds from central government and rising demands for social care.

Three-quarters of local authorities across the UK plan to increase council tax by 2.5%. Credit: ITV News

Now a survey by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) shows 97% of councils plan to increase council tax in the next financial year in order to help balance the books.

The survey also shows three-quarters plan to increase council tax by 2.5% - close to the maximum allowed before councils must poll local residents for permission.

Morag Butcher, a single parent who's living off a government pension, said her family needs the allowances for adult social care to continue.

Ms Butcher's two daughters, Bidi and Lucy, both have Down's Syndrome.

One of her daughter's, Bidi, is 24-years-old and is also blind.

Their mother Morag said both her daughters do not understand what these cuts will mean to them.

Ms Butcher said the cuts to adult social care will affect her daughters' personal hygiene as well as essentials such as glasses.

"The cuts to their funds will mean a loss to their social activities, a loss of anything personal, hygiene, clothes that get spoilt and glasses too as Bidi needs good glasses as she's blind."

She added: "The emotional side for the girls, they do not know, they do not understand any of all of this."

"I will have to be a lot more careful with my money, it will be difficult," Morag added.

The survey reveals a slew of other alarming figures.

The unfolding bankruptcy of Northamptonshire county council over 2018 dramatised the budget crises in local government.

In February 2018, the Tory run council declared itself bankrupt and had to declare insolvency again in July after a review showed it had actually understated the extent of its financial problems and was £70m in deficit.

To attempt to close the funding gap, Northamptonshire planned deep cuts to public services - but, believing those cuts, which would have included cuts to social care, contravened the council's legal obligations, in November the government gave it unique permission to spend up to £60m in cash from the fire sale of a new headquarters.

A handful of other councils around the country are thought to be not far off Northamptonshire's difficulties but the large majority are battling in less alarming, but still tight, financial conditions.

Mum-of-four, Sandy Lysaght, who regularly goes to the Children's centre in Norfolk, said it helped her with her post-natal depression as well as to "bond" with her daughter Ella.

Ms Lysaght said: "I don't think I would have bonded with Ella as much as I have bonded with her now.

"There were days where I didn't want to get out of bed, but I struggled on and having the support and having them tell me that I was a good mum and I was doing a good job meant so much to me."

Ms Lysaght added the centre was a place where she felt safe and supported.

"I had post-natal depression, I needed to get out of the house and this was a place where I could come to where I felt safe and I could ask for help.

"I am heartbroken, I'm devastated, I can honestly say I literally am really upset about it and there's a lot of other families that are as well," she added.

The mum-of-four said she would have to travel thirty extra minutes to the next nearest centre, stressing the distance would be difficult for other parents.

In response to the news that Norfolk is one of the local authorities set to raise its council tax rates, Andrew Proctor, Norfolk County Council Leader said: "The thing that's most uncomfortable for me as a Conservative and a low tax politician is having to put council tax up.

"I don't want see the council tax go up any more than it has to, but if you look at it from a financial sustainability point of view, it's probably local taxation that will pick up the bill for local services."

Adult social care is named by all councils as their top long term financial pressure.

Housing and homelessness was flagged as both an immediate and long term pressure.

Ongoing budget cuts and financial uncertainty will hit community services.

  • 32% of councils saying they will reduce libraries

  • 46% saying they will reduce arts and culture

  • 45% saying they will reduce parks and leisure

  • 22% reducing waste collection

  • 11% reducing recycling

More than half of councils (53%) plan to dip into their reserves - which is above the 49% who used their reserves last year.

82% of councils are considering commercialising council services to raise extra money.

97% of councils are planning to increase fees and charging in the coming year.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "We are investing in Britain’s future by providing local authorities with access to £91.5 billion over the next two years to meet the needs of their residents.

"Authorities are receiving an £1 billion extra in funding this coming year to help deliver local services.

"In the coming financial year all local authorities will receive more control over the money they raise, paving the way for a fairer, more self-sufficient and resilient future for local government."