Future of Blackpool Council 'in jeopardy' due to severe lack of funding that will see its reserves wiped out

A “desperately sad” lack of funding threatens to leave Blackpool Council unable to carry out even its most basic duties, its leader Simon Blackburn has warned.

Thursday, 19th September 2019, 10:00 pm
Council leader Simon Blackburn

In an urgent plea for the Government to provide extra cash for local authorities, he said if demand for children’s services continues to rise as expected it will put the future of the council in jeopardy.

Blackpool and many other areas, he said, were at a “crossroads” and without a major funding boost would be forced to spend the last of their reserve and make “drastic further service cuts”.

In a report to the resort’s councillors ahead of a meeting next week, he writes: “The consequences of almost a decade of savage cuts to local government are now impossible to ignore, not just for Blackpool, but also for almost every area of our country.

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“The truth, in short, is that the council is no longer adequately funded to cover the basic cost of delivery of its core services.”

Despite boosting its reserves by around £1m last year to £7m, current forecasts show that figure is set to fall to almost zero as a massive overspend on children’s services threatens to push the council to the brink.

Councils are legally required to hold back some of their money in reserve for emergency situations – but Coun Blackburn said Blackpool’s working balance is predicted to plummet 99 per cent to just £101,000 this year.

As previously reported by The Gazette, an overspend of almost £8m on children’s social care is expected this year as soaring demand piles pressure on town hall coffers.

Coun Blackburn said the resort was among many areas to have made severe cuts in other areas to keep vulnerable children safe.

Current levels of demand are barely manageable, he added, but if it continues to rise, it would “undermine the financial viability of the Council”.

He said: “The council, like much of the entire sector, is now at a financial crossroads where the unavoidable costs of children’s social care can only be met from: one-off use of finite working balances and reserves; drastic further service cuts elsewhere; and/or significant additional external funding.”

He also rejected the idea that recent Government investment in Blackpool made up for the budget cuts faced by the council since 2010.

He added: “If the council adds up all the capital monies it has fought for and won in recent years for the tramway, conference centre, quality corridors, other schemes and even add on the tens of millions that may be secured via the Future High Street Fund and a Town Deal, the total figure is still less than one year’s worth of the cuts the council has had to make.

“The council is now £153m a year worse off than it was in 2010. I urge the Government to place the financing of local services on a sensible footing.

“Tens of millions of people across the country are depending on it.”

Government’s £1bn cash boost ‘is not a solution’

The Government announced a major funding boost for councils earlier this month, including £1bn for social care.

The move was welcomed by the Local Government Association, which called it “the biggest year-on-year real terms increase in spending power for local government in a decade”.

Chairman Coun James Jamieson said: “The LGA has worked hard to demonstrate to the Government the financial pressures facing councils next year.

“We are pleased it has responded to our calls and acted by providing desperately-needed new money next year, including £1bn for social care and £700m for children and young people with special educational needs.

“This will help councils as they strive to ensure older and disabled people can live the lives they want to lead, support our most vulnerable young people and continue to improve local areas.”

But Coun Blackburn said the funding was nowhere near enough to tackle the problem.

It it were to be divided in the same way as previous grants, he argued, Blackpool would receive £3.7m.

“This represents approximately one third of the underlying pressure in Blackpool’s children’s social care. This is not a solution.”