Vital local services in the South East are collapsing say council staff in UNISON survey

Local government spending cuts have left councils in the South East unable to meet the needs of local communities and, in some cases, are putting the public at risk, says UNISON today (Monday).

A survey, released to coincide with the union’s local government conference, reveals that 80% council workers in the South East have no confidence in the future of local services, and 46% are thinking of leaving their jobs for less stressful work elsewhere.

The survey – of 1,104 local government employees working across all services in the region – reveals that two thirds (66%) say residents don’t receive help and support when they need it, and more than half (56%) are not confident vulnerable residents are safe and cared for.

Council staff who took part shared stories of families living in mouldy, overcrowded, properties; fly-tipping being left for weeks; increasing rodent populations; residents’ cars damaged by huge potholes; and vulnerable children, young people and adults not getting the help and support they need.

A recent National Audit Office* (NAO) report revealed that government funding for local authorities in England has fallen by an estimated 49% (in real terms) from 2010-11 to 2017-18. In UNISON’s survey, an overwhelming 84% of respondents in the South East admitted these cuts have had a negative impact on their ability to do the job as well as they can.

While local authorities have protected spending on statutory service areas such as adult and children’s social care, the amount they spend on other areas like parks and libraries has fallen sharply, says UNISON.

Worryingly, 49% of those who responded believe their council no longer delivers quality services, and 46% that their employer doesn’t make the right decisions for the public. Additionally, 57% are concerned about the financial situation of their council.

Council workers identified a lack of front line staff (60%), adult social care (63%), safeguarding children and young people (43%) a lack of housing options (54%) as the biggest challenges facing local authorities in the South East.

Of those surveyed, 73% said there had been redundancies in their departments and as a result 38% do not feel secure in their jobs. Many spoke of colleagues leaving and not being replaced, causing those remaining to pick up the extra work. As a result, 62% of council workers are regularly working over four hours a week unpaid beyond their contracted hours.

UNISON South East regional secretary Steve Torrance said:

“Local services are collapsing and council workers are being left to pick up the pieces and do the best they can amid the chaos. This disturbing survey should ring alarm bells in Whitehall and alert ministers to the crisis happening in councils across the South East.

“Local authorities have had to cut so many vital services that they have now reached a point where vulnerable children and the elderly struggle to get the help that they need, entire communities are suffering, and the public are being put at risk.

“With cuts to road and bridge maintenance, potholes in roads are left unfilled, and bridges are at risk of crumbling. Crematoriums are not maintained, streetlights stay broken, and parks are in disrepair as councils don’t have the equipment or the staff to adequately maintain them.

“There are now over one million people with an unmet need for social care because councils don’t have the resources to support them. Now is the time to reverse these cuts and invest in local government once more or the very fabric of our society will come unstuck.”


Notes to editors:

– Quotes from council employees:

  • A children’s social worker said: “We are simply reacting to urgent issues and referrals and are not doing any preventative work to resolve situations before they become a crisis.”


  • A library worker in Hampshire said: “Decisions are increasingly being made based on revenue potential rather than value to the public, leaving the poorest and most vulnerable without access to services they depend upon. And staff are being forced to pay for very basic provisions out of their own pocket, due to budget restrictions.

– This week is UNISON’s national conference which runs for four days from Tuesday (19 June); the local government conference (Sunday 17 to Monday 18 June); water, environment and transport (Sunday 17 to Monday 18 June); and energy (Monday 18 June). All conferences take place in Brighton at the Brighton Centre. Steve Torrance will be available for interview in Brighton all week.

Media contacts:

Ryan Slaughter T: 01483 406511 M: 07903 855570 E: