Councils across England expect to make major cuts to bus routes, libraries, streetlamps and other vital services, a startling new survey has found as fears grow of a return to austerity.
The County Councils Network (CCN) survey also found that many councils are likely to reduce adult social care packages in a bid to stave over bankruptcy.
It comes as Rishi Sunak and his chancellor Jeremy Hunt prepare to announce spending cuts at next week’s Budget, as experts warn that local government, policing and transport could all be hit.
Only one in five (22 per cent) of councils are confident of avoiding insolvency next year if there is no extra support in Mr Hunt’s autumn statement, the CCN said.
Some 72 per cent of councils said it was likely they would have to tighten eligibility for adult social care services because of budget shortfalls.
The survey also found that 75 cent of councils said it was likely they would cut some or all bus route subsidies, while over half (56 per cent) said they would likely cut the number of libraries.
And almost two thirds – 63 per cent – said it was likely they would turn off some streetlights entirely or at least turn them off at certain periods in the night.
Councillor Sam Corcoran, Labour vice-chair of the CCN, warned: “If the chancellor does not spare councils from further cuts and provide more funding for local authorities, everything is on the table when considering which vital services to cut.”
Mr Hunt is said to be planning to cut planned growth in day-to-day public spending from 3.7 per cent to as little as 1 per cent after 2025 – a squeeze that would mark a return to the austerity period of the 2010s.
The Treasury is modelling for public spending rises of between 1 and 2 per cent prior ahead of next week’s autumn Budget, according to The Times.
The Resolution Foundation said it would mean a return to austerity-era cuts to Whitehall departments and local government, since the tiny rise in day-to-day spending would be well below inflation.
Krishan Shah, economist at the think tank, warned: “It would mean cutting back services like policing, transport and local government – which are already under severe strain – to levels last seen at the peak of the austerity period.”
TUC boss Frances O’Grady said: “Sunak and Hunt must not repeat the mistakes of Cameron and Osborne. Tory cuts over the past 12 years have meant the slowest recovery for a century.”
Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Revees added: “We’re already set to be near the bottom of global league tables on growth, but all the Tories offer yet again is austerity.”
Speaking to broadcasters, Mr Hunt said he had to “grip inflation, balance the books and get debt falling – there is no other way”.
The chancellor said he faced “very difficult” choices to make on cuts, but said the government had to show it had a plan to make the recession ahead “shallower and quicker”.
The UK may have entered what experts say could be the longest recession in a century as the economy officially shrank by 0.2 per cent between July and September.
If the economy also shrinks in the final three months of this year, as experts predict, it would push the economy into a recession that could last for two years.