Local councils are being forced to sell off libraries, playgrounds and public buildings to pay for austerity-induced cuts and redundancies, a Huff Post investigation has revealed.
With local government funding increasingly strangled a major examination has revealed councils have been forced to raise a total of £9.1 billion from selling property since 2014/15.
One in six councils in England used a total of £381 million to pay for cost cutting and almost a third of that – £115 million – was spent on pay-offs to make people redundant.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which worked in collaboration with HuffPost UK and regional journalists, used data on more than 12,000 public spaces disposed of by councils since 2014/15.
They found the sell-off of public assets coincided with a sharp rise in redundancies at some councils, following a new government policy which gave local authorities more freedom over what they could do with their money, known as the “flexible use of capital receipts”.
Previously, money made from selling publicly owned assets could only be used to fund the cost of buying new ones. But in April 2016 Chancellor George Osborne relaxed the rules to allow local authorities to spend the proceeds on cost-cutting measures, such as merging back-office functions with other authorities, investing in new technology or other reforms which have upfront costs but reduce spending in the long-term.
Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Bureau found 64 councils in England have spent a total of £381 million made from property sales using the new freedom since the policy came into effect. Almost a third of that money – £115 million – was spent on making council workers redundant.
The investigation revealed a clear trend – over the three years since the rules were relaxed, the average number of redundancies was 75 per cent higher at councils that made use of the new spending powers than at those which did not.
An interactive map detailing what your council has sold can be found here.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said: “Council budgets have been cut to the bone by almost a decade of Tory austerity.
“As a result, we’re seeing cash-strapped councils taking desperate measures to balance their books.
“Selling public buildings and spaces was a false economy that leaves our communities poorer… responsibility for these cuts lies firmly at this government’s feet. They should take urgent action.”