Skip to main content

Council finances unsustainable without reform, say MPs

19 July 2021

Reforms are needed to ensure the sustainability of local government finances, including an urgent solution to the funding of social care in England, says the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee in a report published today.

The report Local authority financial sustainability and the section 114 regime recognises councils have faced a variety of budget pressures in recent years, including increased demand for services, especially social care, and that these financial challenges have been exacerbated by Covid-19.

The report makes a range of recommendations, including that the Government should:

  • urgently reform the funding of social care in England;
  • implement the Fair Funding Review and business rates reset as soon as possible;
  • implement changes to council tax and consider wider options for reform; and
  • widen the funding base of local government to make it less vulnerable to shocks such as the covid-19 pandemic, including by giving councils more flexibility over local taxes and other revenue-raising powers.

Clive Betts, Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, said:

“Council budgets have been stretched for several years and the social care funding crisis is at the heart of financial pressures for many councils. A solution to social care funding would go a long way to restoring local government finances. Covid-19 has also hit councils hard and, while the Government responded to the pandemic with substantial financial support, they now need to come forward with a long-term sustainable way of funding councils and the services they provide.

The system of local government finance should enable councils to increase revenue by growing their tax base while protecting those councils who are less able to do this, through no fault of their own. To this end, the Government should implement the Fair Funding Review and business rates reset as soon as possible, and allow councils to retain 75% of business rates from 2022. So that this represents a net increase in funding, we urge the Government not to impose commensurate cuts to grant funding, and the additional funding should then be put towards equalisation between councils. In the longer-term, the Government should consider options for wider reform of council tax and business rates, including possibly replacing them with a proportional property tax.”

The report also makes recommendations on local government financial audit and the section 114 regime. Northamptonshire in 2018, Croydon in late 2020, and Slough earlier this month issued Section 114 notices – essentially declaring they had run out of money – and approached the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for financial assistance.

The report expresses concern that the Section 114 regime may be hindering good financial management and  recommends the Government introduce an intermediary “yellow card” measure that a Chief Financial Officer could apply to force a council to confront much sooner the seriousness of its financial position.

Further information