Council tax to rise across England as austerity hits hard

A dustcart in Vauxhall, London
Waste collections are under threat, with 22% of councils in England planning cuts. Photograph: John Alex Maguire/Rex Features

Almost all councils in England plan to increase council tax from April and three-quarters intend to raise it above 2.75%, research reveals.

The maximum rise allowed without a local referendum is 2.99%. Similar proportions plan to raise charges and fees.

Despite council tax bills soaring, many residents face further cuts in services. Most councils warned that they would be reducing a range of services, from adult social care to libraries and recycling.

The annual survey by the Local Government Information Unit thinktank found that cuts were increasingly visible and that after eight years of austerity – which has cost English councils 40% of their central funding – half of councils felt cuts were now “negatively affecting relationships with citizens”.

Cuts to services such as pothole repair, waste collection, school crossing patrols and libraries proved especially unpopular, the research found. Last week Somerset and Northamptonshire county councils reversed winter gritting cuts after a public outcry when untreated roads caused several car accidents during the recent cold snap.

One in 20 councils said they were concerned that funding cuts were now so deep that they would struggle to deliver the legal minimum level of services. Almost one in 10 anticipate legal challenges from the public against proposed cuts in service provision.

The survey found 80% of councils have no confidence that the current model of local government finance is sustainable. More than half have drawn down reserves to stay afloat. More than three-quarters have borrowed cash to invest in commercial property in the hope the returns will cover budget gaps.

“Now more than ever we need a thriving, resilient local government sector to weather the storm of national uncertainty, but years of chronic underfunding has left local government on life support,” said the chief executive of the thinktank, Dr Jonathan Carr-West.

Councils are increasingly concerned over the instability of their finances, amid fears that up to 15 authorities may follow Northamptonshire county council into insolvency. Others fear that the cost of balancing the budget will come at the expense of vital services.

Cllr Richard Watts, the chair of the Local Government Association’s resources board, said: “This survey illustrates the severity of the challenge facing councils, with government grant funding at the lowest it has been for decades at the same time as demand for services, such as adult social care, children’s services and homelessness support, has grown.”

Nearly a third of councils (29%) were planning cuts from April in adult social care, 24% plan to reduce children’s care services, 16% to reduce special education and disability support, one in 10 plan to cut homelessness support and nearly a fifth will cut grants to the local Citizens Advice bureaux.

Almost half were planning further reductions in arts and culture (46%), parks and leisure activities (45%), roads (38%), libraries (32%) waste collection (22%) and recycling (11%).

Areas where councils say they will introduce or raise charges include garden and bulky waste collection, parking, leisure facilities, planning, adult social care, electric vehicle charging points, registrar services, cremation and burials, licensing (taxis, venues, landlords), pest control, public toilets, replacement bins, community meals, and council venue hire.

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 £91.5bn over the next two years to meet the needs of their residents. Authorities are receiving an £1bn extra in funding this coming year to help deliver local services.”