Sunderland and other northern cities have born the brunt of the Government’s cost-cutting austerity policy, says a new report.
Economic thinktank Centre for Cities says such places have suffered nearly three-quarters of the cuts in local government funding in the last decade, despite being home to just 54% of the population.
And The Cities Outlook 2019 report reveals a clear geographical divide, with the top five worst affected cities all located in the North of England.
Northern cities on average saw their spending cut by 20%, compared to nine per cent for those in the South West, East of England and South East, outside London.
Barnsley is the city that has been hardest hit by austerity in percentage terms, with a 40% reduction in its day-to-day council spending since 2009/10, followed by Liverpool, Doncaster, Wakefield and Blackburn.
The five cities least affected are Luton, Oxford, Aberdeen, Bournemouth and Dundee.
Seven of the ten cities that have seen the biggest cuts are in the North.Paul Swinney
The report says Sunderland has been 17th hardest hit out of 62 cities nationwide, with total spending on day-to-day services such as social care, transport, street cleaning and museums down by a fifth - the equivalent of a £93million reduction, or £342 for every resident in the city.
The city now spends just under half of its budget on social care, which it is legally obliged to provide, meaning other areas have had to be cut harder.
And it has been only one of six cities to dip into its reserves to support frontline services.
Today’s report says cities in the North of England tend to have weaker economies, are more reliant on central government funding and less able to raise money locally, for example through council tax increases.
Sunderland-born Centre for Cities economist Paul Swinney said: “Seven of the ten cities that have seen the biggest cuts are in the North.
“While Sunderland is not in the top - or bottom - ten, there has still been a pretty big impact and we are seeing the effects.”
The squeeze on spending meant a fall in not just the availability, but also the quality of public services, he said: “Where you live in the city do you have access to a library, do you have clean streets?
“The one that comes up a lot is public toilets - councils aren’t spending their pennies on public toilets any more.”
Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged austerity was over in his last Budget speech, but Paul Swinney said the big question would be where the Government spent public money: “Is it coming to Sunderland, is it going to Barnsley, is it going to Wakefield?
“That will be the key test when he says what the new local government allocation is.”
Centre chief executive Andrew Carter added: “Cities drive our national economy and, while austerity has improved local government efficiency, its sheer scale has placed public services in many of our most populated cities under huge pressure.
“Cities Outlook 2019 shows that the cities most affected are economically weaker and have been less able to absorb the loss of central government funding.
“Councils have managed as best they can but the continued singling-out of local government for cuts cannot continue. There is a very real risk that many of our largest councils will in the near future become little more than social care providers. Fairer funding must mean more funding for cities.
“If, as the Prime Minister has said, austerity is coming to an end then the Spending Review must address the financial challenges facing cities. But this does not just mean more money.
“Giving local authorities more power to decide how they raise and spend funds, providing more flexible multi-year budgets and reforming the way social care is paid for also need to be urgently introduced.”
Sunderland City Council leader Coun Graeme Miller said: “Since 2010, more than £290million has been taken out of this council’s budgets because of Government funding cuts and unfunded cost pressures.
“This is the price of Lib-Dem Coalition Government and Conservative austerity – cuts to services, massive pressure on services and communities, and disproportionate cuts to places like Sunderland and other cities across the north of England.
“I am in complete agreement with the report’s conclusions that cities and councils need fairer funding to ease the pressures on services; we need social care funding reform; freedom to raise new funds and how to spend them, and long-term budgets to provide certainty.”