Deep austerity cuts are crippling local councils and have put Britain in breach of its international obligations, the Council of Europe has said.
Official rapporteurs found local authorities do “not have adequate financial resources” and this is likely to “get worse in years to come”, meaning the UK is not compliant with the European charter of local self-government.
In its first report on UK local government for 15 years, the Council of Europe said councils are severely restricted in their ability to provide “essential public services”, including health, social and elderly care, especially to the “growing number of older people”.
It blamed “austerity measures placed on local government”, after its examiners visited London, Leeds, Edinburgh, and Cardiff. The delegation found local government is “faring worse” than national governments and other parts of the public sector.
The conclusions of the report were strongly supported by the Local Government Association. Its chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said it was a “fair reflection on the current pressures facing local government” as it tries to find £20bn of savings by the end of this parliament.
The LGA also endorsed the council’s recommendations for greater devolution of powers to local government, increased tax-raising powers for councils and a fairer funding settlement for English local authorities, compared with Welsh and Scottish ones.
However, Brandon Lewis, the local government minister, rejected the idea that Britain should be bossed around by the Council of Europe and argued the coalition has delivered a fair settlement to every part of the country.
“We welcome free debate, but we are not going to take lectures on this from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia,” he said, pointing out that one of the rapporteurs belonged to the party of the Russian president. “Since 2010, public satisfaction with local government has increased. In the coming year councils should stay focused on cutting waste, making sensible savings, modernising frontline services and keeping council tax down.”
The report is one of a number of critical documents from international bodies that have provoked outrage among Tories.
Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, hit out at the “lunacy” of a previous report from the council, which found that the level of benefits given out in the UK is “inadequate”. Ministers have previously condemned UN reports criticising the bedroom tax and David Cameron’s immigration bill.
However, Britain is obliged to comply with the European Charter of Local Self-Government, a 1988 treaty signed by the 47 members of the Council of Europe.
On Thursday night, Cockell called on the coalition to adopt the report’s recommendations within five years, when the delegation is due to return.
“Our European counterparts also identified the urgent need for a fair and equitable distribution of public money across the UK,” he said.
“The 34-year-old Barnett formula is short-changing English communities by as much as £4.1bn a year and a needs-based model is needed for a fairer deal.