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Local government in the UK is devolved, therefore this briefing focuses on local authorities in England. Links to publications providing information on the structure and finance of local government in the devolved nations can be found in section 4 of this briefing.

Local authorities in England have a statutory duty to provide a range of services to their communities. These include: education services; children’s safeguarding and social care; adult social care; waste collection; planning and housing services; road maintenance; and library services. The main focus of this briefing is on trends in central government funding since 2010 and is followed by summaries of some recent reports that have assessed local authority delivery of services.

Local authorities in England receive the majority of their income from three sources: council tax receipts; the retention of a proportion of business rates raised within the authority area; and central government funding grants. Successive governments over this period have imposed reductions to the central grant funding awarded to local authorities. According to a 2018 report by the National Audit Office, government funding to local authorities in England reduced by 49.1% between 2010–11 and 2017–18 and is projected to have reduced by 56.3% by 2019–20.

On the impact of funding reductions on services, the National Audit Office report found mixed evidence as to whether there had been a reduction in social care provision, as councils tended to protect budgets for these statutory services by making reductions to other services. A recent survey of council leaders by the New Local Government Network think tank found that two-thirds of respondents believed that if funding pressures continued their council may cease offering discretionary services and provide only the legal minimum by 2023. A 2018 survey by the Local Government Association of residents’ satisfaction with eight council-run services found that average satisfaction for all services had declined between 2013 and 2018.

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