Thousands of council jobs could be lost and essential services cut across Wales if the UK government’s squeeze on spending continues.
That was the warning from council leaders and unions as they lobbied Welsh MPs in Parliament today, calling for fair funding for Wales.
The delegation to London on Emergency Budget Day was organised by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and the three unions with members in local councils – UNISON, the GMB and Unite.
They argued that the reduction in block grant funding from Westminster since 2010 means that the Welsh government’s budget is now £1.5bn less in real terms than five years ago. This huge reduction has meant cuts to local authorities across Wales, forcing them to slash spending to the tune of £720m since 2010.
The delegation put the case to local MPs that although councils everywhere have had to tighten their belts under austerity, the situation is especially bleak in Wales.
Under the current funding formula, Wales gets around £300m less a year from the Treasury than if it were an English region.
The WLGA and the unions believe that continuing budget cuts of such magnitude are not sustainable. They told some of the country’s 40 MPs that more austerity will mean a systematic dismantling of the services that maintain the very fabric of communities across Wales.
UNISON Wales head of local government Dominic MacAskill said: “Five years of austerity have already inflicted long-term damage on both Welsh communities and our country’s economy.
“Successive cuts to local government spending in Wales are having a dramatic impact on an essential range of services that play a vital, preventative role in the health and well-being of the people we serve.
“Cuts to council budgets mean less money for services to support vulnerable people, which is a false economy,” he added. “For example, with councils less able to help people who need care in their own homes, individuals are having to turn to the health service for help – leading to increased pressure on already overwhelmed NHS services.”
Cllr Peter Rees, deputy leader of Neath Port Talbot Council and the WLGA’s workforce spokesperson, said: “Local councils have borne the brunt of the Westminster government’s austerity programme to date. There has been a huge impact on local government services and the loss of thousands of jobs has hit local economies hard, especially in areas where the council is the major employer.”
And the leader of Blaenau Gwent, Cllr Hedley McCarthy, added: “It is important that local government and the unions come together in a campaign to defend jobs and services in the face of continuing austerity.
“We remain committed to protecting both public services and the most vulnerable in society.”