Councils in the North East have a funding shortfall of at least £54.7m between them for this financial year, putting at risk services such as libraries, child protection, care for the elderly, road maintenance and public health programmes, according to new figures released today (Tuesday) by UNISON.
Worst hit in the region is Sunderland with a funding gap of £12.3m, followed by Newcastle upon Tyne (£10.2m) and Gateshead (£6m).
The figures, obtained by a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, give a snapshot of the situation for each council in November and show a huge “black hole” in finances for the region for the 2020-21 financial year, says UNISON.
As part of its campaigning for better funding for councils, the union has launched an online map showing people how much county, metropolitan and unitary councils need to deliver basic services, based on the data it has uncovered. Overall figures are likely to be much worse because the FoI did not include district councils.
UNISON is also encouraging people to contact their MPs and ask them to call on the government to provide more funding for councils.
All local authorities are legally bound to balance their budgets by the end of the financial year, but the pandemic has placed many costly additional burdens on them, says UNISON.
UNISON wants to see the chancellor ensure vital funds are provided for councils up and down the country in Wednesday’s Budget.
UNISON regional secretary Clare Williams said: “The financial situation councils in the North East experiencing is dire. They face a huge black hole in their budgets. Many need to take drastic action to ensure they can deliver vital services, but all too often even these have been cut.
“Councils were struggling even before the pandemic. But with the government refusing to pay them back for the additional costs brought on by Covid-19, the most vulnerable will suffer and basic services will be significantly pared back or stopped.
“The chancellor has the chance to relieve some of that pressure in the Budget. Increasing funding for councils would ensure they can continue to help the most vulnerable and deliver quality services for all.”