Budget: Cut consultants and diversity schemes to save cash, Hunt to tell councils

The chancellor will urge councils to reduce wasteful spending but councillors say it is a distraction.
Budget: Cut consultants and diversity schemes to save cash, Hunt to tell councils
Jeremy HuntReuters

Councils will be told to reduce spending on consultants and diversity schemes when Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivers his Budget on Wednesday.

He will urge town halls to cut back on what he says is wasteful spending and stress the importance of productivity.

The Local Government Association said most councils spent “pence” on things like diversity schemes.

Mr Hunt is also preparing to freeze fuel duty for another year. The levy has not increased since 2011.

The Budget – taking place in the House of Commons on Wednesday – will see Mr Hunt set out his tax and spending plans.

It comes as council leaders warn they are facing severe difficulties in balancing their books.

Chair of the LGA, and Labour councillor, Shaun Davies told the BBC’s Today programme the money troubles were the result of a “simple equation”.

“Demand for services are going up to record highs, the cost of providing services are at record highs and cuts from central government are at record highs.

“We’ve seen 19 councils this year approach the government for exceptional financial assistance, we’ve seen more councils go bust in the last three years than in the last 30 years.”

He said conversations about diversity schemes were a “distraction” from the real problems.

On consultant spending, Mr Davies argued that councils were forced to pay for consultants in order to bid for central government funding.

He urged ministers to start allocating money based on need rather than the “begging bowl culture of competitive bidding”.

A recent survey found that two-thirds of councils in England are planning to cut services.

At the same time the vast majority of them are preparing to increase council tax by the maximum 5% next month.

Nottingham City Council leader David Mellen told the BBC they would be implementing “swingeing cuts” adding that social care demands, inflation and a rise in homelessness had contributed to a “huge gap” in the council’s budget.

Mr Mellen said the council had “very open about mistakes in the past” including an energy project which lost the city millions.

However, he added that cuts in government funding “overwhelms anything that we have apologised for in terms of our management”.

He said £100m had been taken from their budget by central government “each and every year in the last 10 years”.

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Bin collection

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Councils in England receive their money from:

  • council tax
  • taxes paid by local businesses
  • grants from central government
  • rent from social housing
  • fees and charges (parking for example)

The money goes towards services including:

  • adult and children’s social care
  • bin collections and recycling
  • street maintenance
  • transport and highways
  • cremation and burials
  • cultural services such as libraries
  • fire services

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Birmingham City Council, which declared itself effectively bankrupt last year, is preparing to vote on a wave of cuts to local services and a 21% rise in its rate of council tax.

Birmingham is Europe’s largest local authority, and is trying to make £300m of cuts.

Its difficulties are partly a result of a £1bn payout it had to make to settle equal pay claims brought by underpaid workers.

Earlier this year the government announced an extra £600m of funding to help plug local authority budget gaps.

At the same time Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said councils would have to draw up productivity plans by the summer explaining how they would “improve service performance and reduce wasteful expenditure”.

He added that local authorities should “consider whether expenditure on discredited equality, diversity and inclusion programmes meets this objective”.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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