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Councils in crisis: Leaders to meet in Westminster

Council leaders from across the country will converge on Westminster on January 23 to discuss the social and financial crisis putting frontline public services at risk.

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They will discuss potential solutions to the soaring levels of homelessness and call on the government to urgently uprate the housing benefit subsidy cap for temporary accommodation placements - the cap remains frozen at 2011 rates.

The demand for temporary accommodation and the costs of providing it have reached unsustainable levels, with borough and district councils facing multi-million-pound deficits in their 2023/2024 budgets.

Eastbourne Borough Council is one of many authorities that has seen costs soar and hosted an emergency summit on the issue in October (2023) attended by 158 councils.  A cross-party group of 119 council leaders subsequently signed a letter to the Chancellor asking for help. 

Temporary accommodation costs in Eastbourne have increased from £1.4m in 2018/19 to £4.9million in 2023/24 - 30% of the council's total (£15m) spending power.  The situation is even more severe in many other local authorities, making more s114 notices inevitable in the coming weeks.

Councillor Stephen Holt, Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, will attend the meeting on January 23 at One Great George Street.  He said:

"I've said all along that we need to work with the government, not against it.  

"Our first summit was attended by council leaders of all political parties, all with the same problem that we can't continue to provide vital frontline services and achieve a balanced budget unless we get immediate financial support. 

"I have personally invited the Minister for Local Government to attend the meeting next week and extended that invitation to other MPs, Ministers and Members of the House of Lords to hear the scale of the problem we are facing.

"I hope they recognise the gravity of this situation and find time to seriously discuss how we can resolve it before it is too late."

In addition to cross-party council leadership representatives who will speak, Jasmine Basran, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Crisis, will address the meeting. She said:

"We cannot ignore how crucial homelessness services are right now for people pushed to the brink. Crippling financial pressures from rising living costs, unaffordable rents and a severe lack of social homes is forcing more and more people into homelessness.

"The Westminster government's own figures show that in the last year, 298,430 households have approached their local council for homelessness support. Yet years of chronic underfunding is forcing councils to consider ending these vital services in an effort to balance the books.   

"We cannot allow people in desperate situations to be left without access to vital help and trapped in homelessness. We urgently need the government to provide the levels of funding that councils need if we're to tackle this rising crisis and ensure that people can find a safe and secure home.

"We would welcome the opportunity to work with the Westminster government to prevent this situation from escalating further and bring homelessness levels down." 

Published on January 18, 2024.

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