Marmot: austerity-era cuts to local government must be reversed

This was passed to us by Jenifer White from Historic England and I thought was worth adding as a blog.


Cuts to local government funding during austerity need to be reversed, the author of a landmark study on health inequalities has said.

Sir Michael Marmot, whose 2010 Fair Society, Healthy Lives report was followed by an update in February 2020 which examined the period of austerity, also told today’s LGC Future Places conference that he supported local government’s role in public health.

He was asked how much local government could do to address health inequalities given huge cuts to their budgets, and whether measures to tackle the issues he had identified always require large amounts of money.

He said that while “as a nation, shortage of money should not be the issue” due to the low cost of government borrowing and quantitative easing, “at the local government level you do need money, no question”.

Referring to the 32% reduction in local authority spending in the most deprived 20% of areas during austerity, Sir Michael said: “Those cuts need to be reversed. When the government said austerity is over, they didn’t mean austerity was over. They meant ‘we’re not going to gouge you any further’. What they really should mean if austerity is over is ‘we’re going to work to restore those cuts’.

“If your budget’s been cut by 32% and you’re in a deprived area there’s only so much you can do without more money – there’s no question about that,” he said. “That said, there’s quite a lot you can do with the money that you have.”

Sir Michael was also asked about councils’ public health functions. He said a senior politician had suggested to him that the 2012 reforms, which moved this responsibility to local authorities, had failed. In response, he pointed to the budget cuts to Public Health England and local authorities over the same period.

He added: “In principle having public health with local government sounds to me like a good idea, but local government has to be properly funded and the public health element has to be properly funded.”

The response and debate from the House of Commons is at best – pathetic.

HC Debate, 24 March 2021

Luke Hall Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

‘The Government recognises the value of parks and green spaces in providing vibrant and inclusive locations for communities to socialise, volunteer, work, and exercise. It recognises that green spaces foster health, well-being, integration, and social engagement.

In 2021-22, local government will on average see a cash terms increase of up to 4.6% in Core Spending Power – a real-terms increase. This is in line with last year’s increase and recognises the resources councils need to meet their pressures and maintain current service levels.

The Settlement is unringfenced to ensure local areas can prioritise based on their own understanding of the needs of their local communities.

The Government has made £16.3 million available between 2017 – 2019 to support parks and green spaces.

This includes those in urban environments by funding; £9.7 million Local Authority Parks Improvement Fund; £5.1 million Pocket Parks and Pocket Parks Plus programmes; £1.41 million to test and pilot new management and funding models for parks through the Future Parks Accelerator programme; £55,000 to fund a Parks Action Group Coordinator; £30,000 on Green Infrastructure – working with Natural England to develop new standards for green spaces; £20,000 towards a skills event to promote continued professional development for parks professionals and £130,000 Community Empowerment Programme encouraging local communities become involved in the stewardship of community parks and green spaces’.

I have a pocket park literally 2 minutes walk from where I live in Leighton Buzzard. It is the size of 2 car parking bays. In fact it would have been better used as a parking bay. It is located next to the railway station and is a pitiful excuse of a green space. It is never used. Why? It is unusable. It serves no purpose and faces ironically onto a lovely recreation ground where many commuters walk through.

Government need to wake up. The National Lottery Heritage Fund have funded over £1 billion in restoring public parks across the UK. In Watford where I work, we have invested over £25 million in our parks and we are the smallest geographical local authority in the country. What the minister has quoted is about as much use as unicorns are in resolving climate change.

Paul Rabbitts

Head of Parks, Heritage and Culture

Watford Borough Council