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Northern cities bearing brunt of austerity cuts

Cities in the North have borne the brunt of austerity cuts to local government spending, a new report has claimed.

The annual Cities Outlook report, which is published by the think tank Centre for Cities, claims the five worst affected cities all located in the North of England, with Liverpool and Barnsley being the worst hit by cuts to local government budgets since 2010.

According to the report, cities in the North of England on average saw their spending cut by 20% compared to 9% for those cities in the South West, East of England and South East, excluding London.

Barnsley is the city that has been hardest hit by austerity in percentage terms, with a 40% reduction in its day-to-day council spending since 2009/10.

And Liverpool saw the deepest cuts per resident, with an £816 reduction to council services’ funding for every person living in the city.

The report also highlights the pressure that growing demand for social care is putting on cities’ finances.

A decade ago, just four cities out of the 62 in the report spent the majority of their budget on social care, now half of them do.

The report also warns that if this pattern continues, the only role for many councils will be to provide social care.

‘Cities drive our national economy and, while austerity has improved local government efficiency, its sheer scale has placed public services in many of our most populated cities under huge pressure,’ said Centre for Cities chief executive, Andrew Carter.

‘Cities Outlook 2019 shows that the cities most affected are economically weaker and have been less able to absorb the loss of central government funding.’

Speaking at the report’s launch event in London, the leader of Newcastle City Council, Cllr Nick Forbes said councils are getting to the point where ‘even the services that support the vulnerable are going to have to take a hit’, unless something changes.

‘It would be a tragedy if local government in our cities simply became a delivery mechanism for an inadequate social care system,’ said Cllr Forbes.

‘Cities are the pinnacle of what we achieve culturally and economically. They are magnets for all sorts of activities. They are where the great things in our country happen, but we are in a danger of losing that.’

The Newcastle City Council leader added that some parts of the country are moving forward with directly-elected metro mayors, who are ‘bringing a sharper focus on the economy in those areas’, but he also warned that they, by themselves, will ‘not address the deep-seated problems I have been talking about’.

‘My real worry is that many of the cities in the UK really helped in the aftermath of the last big economic shock,’ he told the event.

‘We all did what we could to create jobs, because we had the capacity and network connections to do that. I’m really worried that we are losing our resilience. We’re losing our capacity to get involved and bring inward investment. We’re losing our capacity to deliver on skills.

‘Brexit is taking up all of the bandwidth in Government. It’s impossible to have a serious conversation about these issues. I look forward to my budget in 18 months’ time. I have not got a clue what income we will get from government, and we are a multi-million-pound organisation. That is no way to plan for our cities.’

The Cities Outlook 2019 report by Centre for Cities is available to download here.

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