Local government needs certainty, stability and flexibility. Sadly, this Budget falls short, despite some positive measures.
The Chancellor has set out a package of housing measures that stand to increase supply across the country. These could go even further by being extended to all local authorities. The announcements about the changes to Universal Credit certainly indicate that the Government is now listening to what we and others have been saying about the dangers inherent in its original policy design.
Ultimately, though, the Budget does little to address the crisis facing local services that are already stretched to breaking point after eight years of cuts to council funding.
Over the next decade, the number of homeless households is projected to rise by 25 per cent, another 350,000 vulnerable or older people are expected to need high levels of care, and 12 million people could be in jobs that keep them trapped in poverty or out of work completely. Solace has argued that councils and their local partners urgently need financial stability to put local services on a sustainable footing to meet current and future demand.
Changing the multiplier for business rates earlier than planned and changed revaluation timescales will be welcome relief for local businesses, but does nothing to make the financial base for local services more fit-for-purpose and sustainable. For local government, the Budget is most notable for what is missing from it: clarity on future funding arrangements. Councils cannot live hand to mouth. No business would be expected to run this way. At a minimum, we need a commitment that councils will be able to retain all business rates income to plug existing funding gaps, and a plan for the future to address the 2020 ‘no plan’ precipice.