Deprived areas in Scotland are seeing larger cuts to budgets - of around £90 per head - compared to affluent ones, according to a new report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
Coping with Cuts? Local government and poorer communities
The report by researchers at Glasgow and Heriot-Watt universities - Coping with cuts? Local government and poorer communities - is part of JRF's programme of research to track the impact of tighter public spending and the state of the economy on poorer people and places.
Local government spending (excluding police, schools, housing benefit) is set to fall by 24% in Scotland in real terms between 2008 and 2015.
The research analyses the national change and distribution of budget cuts across Scotland and England.
The most deprived Scottish councils reduced expenditure between 2010 and 2013 by £90 per head more than the most affluent councils did - a pattern and figure similar to councils in England (around £100).
Cuts are also generally greater in the west rather than the east of Scotland - the difference being £47 per head. Areas such as the former Strathclyde region (Ayrshire, Argyll and Bute, Dumfries and Galloway, Eilean Sar) see greater cuts, whereas the former Borders region (Central, Lothian, Fife, Tayside, Grampian, Highland, Orkney, Shetland) fare better.
The report also includes detailed analysis of the approaches taken by three English case study councils (Newcastle, Coventry and Milton Keynes). Similar research will also be undertaken in Scotland.
Local authorities are also seeking to balance their budgets by increasing income and reducing demands on services via measures such as: developing businesses and attracting jobs; refocusing resources on the most vulnerable; and investing in programmes to stop needs intensifying. The study found however that:
- There is a real risk that an increased targeting of services on the most vulnerable groups will undermine the capacity of local authorities to provide a broad range of services across the social spectrum. Related dangers are that such services will then become stigmatised and that this in turn will undermine the willingness of council tax payers who do not rely on these services to continue paying for them
- Local authority officers are struggling to implement significant changes to the local authority role at a time when staff resources are being cut. As one officer remarked: "If you're going to drive a huge change agenda, and the biggest change agenda that I've probably seen in 30 odd years of government - you're going to need more capacity, not less."
- The return from investment strategies will not be immediate, and in the short term the contributions from economic growth will not be significant in terms of reducing needs. Further, in relation to economic growth, localities do not compete on a €˜level playing field'. There is a danger that an increasing expectation that councils can fund services through growth will increase the gap between affluent and deprived places.
John Low, Policy and Research Manager at JRF, said: "This is an important and very timely report which provides graphic illustrations of how spending cuts are playing out on the ground. As we approach the fourth austerity settlement for local government in December, it is clear the cuts are biting deep into the poorest and most deprived communities. Unless we can muster the national will to correct or mitigate the unacceptable divergence of resources between more and less affluent authorities, we are slowly but inexorably creating a more divided society."
Professor Glen Bramley, report co-author, said: "The extent of these cuts, sustained over a period of years and in the face of rising demands and costs, is unprecedented. Quite complex changes are happening in the financing system as well, which makes it difficult to track the impact clearly and completely. However, we can say that the extent of the cuts is greater in the more deprived authorities, and that some important services relied on more by poorer people are being cut substantially."