Post-industrial cities in the north of England, together with some inner-city London boroughs, have been hit by the deepest cuts to local government spending since the start of austerity in 2010, said the research by the University of Cambridge, theguardian.com reported.
“The idea that austerity has hit all areas equally is nonsense,” said Mia Gray, an economic and social geographer at Cambridge, who coauthored the study.
She said the distribution of the cuts across Britain should be seen as highly political.
The heavy cuts to services in deprived regions — often characterized as economically ‘left behind’ areas — have been compounded by high levels of poverty and a lower capacity to mitigate cuts through local taxation or asset sales, the study found.
By contrast, a ‘swathe of middle England’ in the south, particularly the economically prosperous home counties council areas around London, have seen relatively tiny cuts to spending, and are far better equipped to raise local taxes.
More than 30 council areas in England have experienced cuts in spending of over 30 percent between 2010 and 2017, with seven councils — Westminster, Salford, South Tyneside, Slough, Wigan, Oldham and Gateshead — hit by cuts of more than 40 percent.
The smallest reductions have been in East Riding of Yorkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Bracknell Forest, Somerset, Wiltshire, Central Bedfordshire, and Warwickshire, all of which had single-digit percentage cuts.
English councils have seen average cuts of 24 percent, twice as deep as their counterparts in Scotland (12 percent) and Wales (11.5 percent).
The study said devolved government had enabled those nations to find ways of mitigating the cuts.
Government plans to phase out central grants and fund local government through local business rates and council taxes would exacerbate patterns of inequality, particularly between London/the southeast and the rest of the UK, said Gray.
“We are now seeing austerity policies turn into a downward spiral of disinvestment in certain people and places. Local councils in some communities are shrunk to the most basic of services. This could affect the life chances of entire generations born in the wrong part of the country,” she said.
Gray warned that the government needed to decide whether it was prepared to see more local authorities go bust in the manner of Northamptonshire county council, which declared insolvency this year after being unable to balance its budget.
The study comes as the government prepares to publish its ‘fair funding’ review of the formula used to share out central funding to local government. Mainly Tory-run county councils have lobbied for cash to be redistributed away from cities to rural areas where several counties have struggled financially.
However, the study shows several counties linked with financial problems have had some of the smallest cuts in recent years, including East Sussex, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Somerset. Northamptonshire’s cuts were around the English average of 24 percent.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the funding it gave councils was based on the relative needs of different areas. “The average spending power per dwelling for the 10 percent most deprived authorities is around 23 percent more than for the least deprived 10 percent in 2018-19.”
It added, “We have made £200 billion available to councils up to 2020 for services, and are working closely with them to develop a funding system for the future based on the needs of different areas.”
Councilor Richard Watts, the chair of the Local Government Association’s resources board, said, “Losing a further £1.3 billion of central government funding next year is going to tip many councils over the edge. Many local authorities will reach the point where they only have the funds to provide statutory responsibilities and it will be our local communities and economies who will suffer the consequences.”