Shocking picture of austerity cuts to local services is revealed by UNISON

The true scale of almost a decade of savage austerity cuts to local communities in the North East is laid bare in a study published by UNISON today (Friday), showing the impact of huge reductions in council funding.

A series of freedom of information (FoI) requests to local authorities in the region examined the changes in local services between 2010 and 2019 for several key council services, including youth centres, public toilets, libraries and subsidised bus routes.

Across England, central government cuts have led to a 17% fall in council spending on public services since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. Between then and the end of the decade, grant funding for councils in England has been reduced by £16bn.

The FOI findings, using data supplied by eight out of 12 local authorities in the North East, show the human cost of the cutbacks:

  • A total of 37 children’s centres and family hubs (which provide support services for babies, young people and families) have been closed, while eight youth centres have been lost.
  • Almost a fifth (19%) of public toilets have closed, with 25 public conveniences disappearing since the Conservatives came to power.
  • The number of subsidised bus routes has decreased by more than three quarters (88%), a reduction of 22 services, increasing the isolation of many living in rural communities.
  • More than a quarter (29%) of libraries have either closed, been privatised or are now staffed by volunteers over the past ten years. This is a decrease of 43 council-run libraries. Over the same time there’s been a ten-fold rise in the number run by volunteers, up from 0 to 16.

Commenting on the study, UNISON regional secretary Clare Williams said: “The scale of the cuts is both breathtaking and disturbing.

“Each cut has a major impact on a community, whether it’s a pensioner feeling isolated in their home because they can’t get a bus or people being unable to borrow books or use the internet in local libraries. The widespread axeing of youth centres has left many young people with nowhere to turn at crucial points in their lives.

“Squeezed budgets have forced councils to make impossible decisions. No local authority wants to cut the services it offers but with much less funding coming from Westminster, they’ve often had little choice. It’s vulnerable people and those least able to fend for themselves who suffer most.

“This is the shocking legacy of nine years of Tory spending cuts. People should think about the services lost to their communities when they cast their vote on polling day.”