Councils across the South West face cash crisis of more than £277m, says UNISON

Cornwall Council’s funding gap of £62m is the fourth worst shortfall in the whole of Britain.

Screenshot from UNISON's council cuts website shows Somerset County Council has a £44,500,000 deficit

Councils across the South West face a collective funding gap of over £277m in the next financial year forcing them to cut essential services, says a report published by UNISON.

Waste collections, leisure centres, nurseries and other vital services will all be hit according to the findings based on information* from local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales.

The UNISON report shows that Cornwall Council is set to have the largest funding gap of all the authorities in the region. Its funding gap of £62m is the fourth worst shortfall in the whole of Britain. The next worst affected authority in the region is Somerset County Council (£44m) then Devon County Council (£35m).

The record shortfall, totalling £277m across the 31 councils in the South West in 2023/24, means local authorities will be forced to rely on dwindling reserves, and cut services and jobs, says UNISON.

The report shows there is worse to come with the cumulative funding gap rising even further in 2024/25 to over £327m, says UNISON.

UNISON says skyrocketing inflation, energy costs and the economic impact of the mini budget mean that the actual shortfall will be many times higher.

The picture is likely to get bleaker still, says UNISON. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has spoken of further cuts to the public sector, which are likely to compound the crisis in local government funding.

And as the cost-of-living crisis deepens and inflation soars, even greater strain will be placed on councils as their costs increase and demand grows for food banks and other support.

Most are responding to the crisis by cutting services and activities, examples include:

  • Cornwall Council has closed three children’s outdoor centres.
  • Christmas lights in Budleigh Salterton in East Devon have been axed this year.
  • Bristol City Council have hiked car parking charges in the city centre, with some more than doubling.

UNISON says even more services – as well as jobs – will be at risk if councils have to declare themselves effectively bankrupt.

UNISON South West regional secretary Joanne Kaye said:
“Local authorities provide the essential services everyone relies on such as waste collection, road repairs, and children’s care.

“But cash-strapped councils are having to resort to ever more desperate measures after years of austerity just to keep services going. Now the government looks set to make their predicament infinitely worse with emergency cuts to spending following the mini-budget fiasco.

“Local communities across the South West cannot be the ones to pay the price for the government’s grotesque mismanagement of the economy. The new prime minister and chancellor must sort the crisis in local government funding and give councils the cash they need to save services.”

Notes to editors:  

  • *UNISON sent a Freedom of Information request to all 397 local councils in England, Scotland and Wales for their 2022/23 funding shortfall figure. A total of 251 responded, including four who provided no data. For the 46 who did not respond, UNISON obtained figures for 44 from each council’s medium-term financial strategy report. A full breakdown of UNISON’s findings is available.
  • UNISON has visualised the cuts on an interactive map.