Watchdog: council planning departments suffering biggest cuts

Local authority planning departments are suffering disproportionately as councils make cuts in light of reduced government funding, according to new data published by the public services watchdog.

A report published today by the Audit Commission showed that while planning and development represents only 4 per cent of single tier and county councils’ spend, the services will contribute 22 per cent of savings made by such councils.

The study, Tough Times, showed that, on average spending on planning and development will fall by 28 per cent in STCCs, and by 16 per cent in district councils.

Almost half of all savings needed in STCCs will come from planning, housing and cultural services, despite these services making up only 16 per cent of service spending, the report says.

STCCs facing the largest cuts in central government funding – that is greater than 8 per cent – are making the largest cuts to planning and development services, almost 50 per cent on average, according to the study.

But the report said it would be very difficult to make similar-sized cuts in planning services next year.

"A further 50 per cent cut in planning spending is highly unlikely to be possible in 2012/13, and even if it was, such a cut would deliver much smaller savings," the report said.

"The bigger services may need to make a greater contribution to future savings."

The report acknowledged that income from fees and charges is significant in many councils, and that increasing such fees could offset reduced government funding. But the report said that demand for some fee-earning services, such as planning and car parking, had fallen.

The report said: "Councils are trying to minimise spending cuts in priority areas such as adult social care, but this has meant potentially unsustainable levels of cuts in smaller services, such as planning. Services protected this year may need to make bigger contributions to future savings."

To read the report click here

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