The pressure on local government finance continues. Torbay Council's announcement this week that it would stop all non-urgent spending demonstrates how bad things are getting. Torbay are not alone, there are other local authorities in a similarly distressed economic position.
It is also is not easy for local authorities to simply switch off the tap in providing discretionary services as this week's High Court decision in R (on the application of WX) v Northamptonshire County Council  EWHC 2178 demonstrates. In that case the Council believed it had no choice but to opt to close 21 public libraries as part of a cost saving plan, when it had originally decided to close fewer libraries having completed a full consultation exercise. The change of plan had been pre-empted by a statutory notice issued by the Council's auditors back in February which suspended the Council's power to set a budget. The Court held that the Council's decision to close the 21 public libraries was unlawful in that it had not met its public sector equality duty and failed to take account of other material factors before the decision. The case is interesting because it amply demonstrates the conflict between what the public demands in terms of public services and what local authorities can afford to deliver. Although the case means a reprieve for the libraries due to close, it will only be temporary. The sad reality is that local authorities no longer have the resources to do much more than they have a statutory duty to do and in some cases even that is becoming more than they can manage.
Unitary council stops all non-urgent spending in face of £2.8m overspend