COUNCIL finance bosses are preparing for any budget uncertainties they may face in the coming years - after a study labelled Barnsley as one of the worst-hit authorities for relying on its cash reserves to plug holes.
The probe - conducted by the BBC Shared Data Unit - approached 218 councils for information on total net revenues for 2023/24, planned savings, predicted shortfalls and whether or not reserves were being used.
It was found the average council face a £33m predicted deficit by 2025/26, representing a rise of 60 per cent from what it was two years ago.
Authorities surveyed said they would need to find £5.2bn to balance the books by April 2026 - even after making £2.5bn of cuts this year.
Barnsley is one of the councils which recorded a large use of reserves as a proportion of its net budget.
Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, said: “Every year, we continue to serve our communities with less, and we must make tough decisions to balance our financial challenges with the income to fund the investments and drive the town forward.
“Our finances have always been well-managed, which puts us in a good position.
“We’re preparing as well as possible for the different scenarios and uncertainties we may face.”
Government funding represented over 55 per cent of council’s core spending power in 2013/14 but now equates to just 37 per cent in 2023/24.
At the same time, the percentage of council funding from local revenue - such as council tax - has increased to over 62 per cent in 2023 as financial bosses try to plug the funding gap, an increase of almost 18 per cent since 2013.
The switch from direct grants to local taxes means the reduction has a lower impact on the wealthiest areas, which rely less on grant funding and can raise more from council tax, business rates and other growth-based local funding sources.
Mike Short, head of local government for trade union Unison, added: “Council finances are in the direst of states - as the government tightens the squeeze on local budgets, services either vanish or are scaled down dramatically.
“Cash-starved councils have had to go cap in hand to ministers for emergency support or raid already depleted reserves in a desperate attempt to balance the books.
“This is not a sustainable situation - local authorities simply don’t have the funds to provide even statutory services.
“That’s why social services directors warned recently that councils probably can’t offer even the legal minimum of care support next year.
“Council employees have had enough.
“Pay rises haven’t kept up with the cost of living.
“Staff want to take pride in their jobs and run good quality services for local residents, but this is no longer possible.
“It’s no wonder so many are quitting for pastures new, but as staff leave, there’s no money to replace them, which piles on the pressure for those remaining.
“Decent, well-resourced public services are essential.
“Cuts are a false economy as the dreadful experiment with austerity has more than shown. It’s time for a fair funding settlement, both for now and future years.”