Poorer cities have borne the brunt of austerity. Time to fix it, Chancellor

Liverpool, 2008. Image: Getty.

The chief executive of the Centre for Cities on its latest survey of urban Britain.

Before the 2016 referendum the government’s austerity programme was the defining political issue of our age. Over the last 10 years, the public spending reductions implemented following the 2008 financial crisis have radically altered the nature and shape of the state at the national and in particular at the local level.

Until very recently it looked as if this period of austerity was to become the new normal. But in her party conference speech last October the Prime Minister announced that austerity was coming to an end. Whether austerity actually ends only time will tell, but even if it does for the state as a whole, the worry is that for parts of the public sector, and in particular for local government, the austerity story will carry on well into the next decade. 

Local government experienced the deepest cuts by far in the last ten years. While this has made councils more efficient and effective, the sheer scale of the cuts is increasingly impacting on their ability to provide local services to their residents, particularly those most reliant of such services.

Our Cities Outlook 2019 report, released this week, examined this issue in detail and found that nowhere has felt the fiscal pinch of austerity more than cities. Despite being home to around half the population, the country’s 62 biggest cities and towns have shouldered three quarters of all cuts to local government. In cash terms, this is equivalent to a £386 cut for every city dweller over the last decade, compared to just £172 per person living elsewhere.

Poorer northern cities have been hit especially hard. The five cities that saw the biggest falls in spending were located in the North of England, with Barnsley, Liverpool and Doncaster all seeing real-terms cuts of over 30 per cent. Liverpool’s per head spending fall was by far the biggest in the country, equivalent to £816 for everyone living in the city.

Unfortunately for these cities, their weaker local economies meant that they have been less able to absorb the cuts to their central government grant funding by generating income from other means such as raising council tax or increasing fees and charges for services.

This is a problem on many levels. Firstly, there is a question of fairness. The cuts were not intentionally designed to fall harder on poorer cities, but this is the reality of how they played out. As a result there is a moral case for correcting the unintended impact of this approach.

Secondly, on a more strategic level, cities are the economic hubs that drive our national prosperity; their performance is felt far beyond their political boundaries. Therefore cuts to services that help make our cities vibrant and dynamic places to work, live and visit, such as planning and economic development will not only harm them in the long term, it will also hit the country’s prosperity.

How can we address this situation? Yes, more money would go a long way in the poorer cities that have seen the biggest falls in spending; but it is not just a question of cash. There are relatively cost-free measures that the Chancellor should introduce as part of the upcoming Spending Review to empower city leaders to more effectively manage their finances.


First, the current restrictions on what councils can spend funds raised through public charges on should be loosened. Currently, for example, money raised through parking charges can only be spent on transport. Having to spend scarce funding on potentially unnecessary transport initiatives makes little sense to people seeing their libraries and children’s centres closing due to lack of money. The Chancellor should address this in the upcoming Spending Review.

He should also enable councils to set multi-year budgets – where spend and income can vary year on year within the budget period. The current rules force them to set annual balanced budgets which make delivering long-term strategic service reforms and investments in areas such as health, social care, housing and transport very difficult.

The final challenge for cities’ finances will be the hardest to solve: developing a sustainable social care funding strategy. Cities Outlook 2019 found that the growing demand for social care is adding to the squeeze on cities’ finances. A decade ago, just four cities out of the 62 we studied spent the majority of their budget on social care: now, half of them do. It is no coincidence that Barnsley, the city that has seen the largest cut in spending nationally, is also the city that dedicates the largest share of its budget to funding social care in Britain.

Developing a long-term plan for meeting our growing social care demands is crucial to addressing cities’ financial challenges.

Cities are home to 58 per cent of the UK’s high skilled jobs, 60 per cent of new business starts and 62 per cent of the country’s GVA, making them vital to our national success. However a decade of falling spending, particularly in areas deemed “non-essential” such as economic development, planning and skills, has greatly weakened the capacity of cities to support sustainable long-term growth.

The upcoming Spending Review is an opportunity for the Chancellor to address this challenge and allow them to take back control of their finances. It is in all of our interests that he doesn’t miss this opportunity.  

Andrew Carter is Chief Executive of Centre for Cities; you can read its Cities Outlook 2019 report here.

This article previously appeared on our sister site, the New Statesman.

 
 
 
 

Wild boar are moving back to Genoa, and not everyone is pleased

A wild boar, c1933. Image: Getty.

Crossing the Ponte Gerolamo Serra in the Italian city of Genoa, I spotted a small crowd clustered by the river wall. I approached, intrigued, and peered over the wall to discover the subject of their delight: a sounder of eight wild boars – the adults sheltering from the heat in the undergrowth, while the juveniles foraged among the foliage that grows in the river bed during the dry summer months.

In any other city, such a sight might have been surprising. But in Italy, and particularly in the region of Liguria, where Genoa is located, the population of wild boars has been increasing at such a rapid rate that these incidents are now common. Across the country, it’s estimated that the population has risen from 600,000 to 1m over the past decade.

But while wild boars may look comically out of place trotting about the city, it’s actually a natural result of the way people have migrated – and the wars they have fought – over the course of recent history.

Making a comeback

A species native to Europe, the wild boar (or “cinghiale”, in Italian) largely disappeared from its historical territories during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their decline was widely attributed to the combined effects of habitat change, competition for space and resources and, of course, hunting.

Wild boars were a prized quarry, revered for their ferocity – and the danger involved in pursuing them. According to local folklore from the region of Liguria, the last truly wild boar was hunted and killed in 1814, in the province of Savona.

After an absence of more than a century, wild boar began to return to Liguria, and to the neighbouring region of Piedmont. A further influx occurred during World War I, when it’s believed that military activities in the south-east of France forced parts of the population back into Italy over the Alps.

Although hunting fraternities were quick to augment this fledgling population with wild boars transported from elsewhere, the return of the species was primarily due to natural causes. From the 1950s onwards, traditional agricultural practices were abandoned as more and more people moved from rural towns into the cities. This meant that large areas of formerly cultivated terraces and pastures were rapidly overgrown, fast becoming dense secondary woodlands.

A city gone wild

This spontaneous “rewilding” has become a controversial issue in the region. Many conservationists and environmental organisations consider the region’s return to a “wild state” a success. But others believe that the encroaching wilderness signals a loss of traditional woodland knowledge and a reduction of biodiversity, associated with the pastures and meadows.


The province of Genoa is among the areas most densely populated by wild boar in Italy, with an estimated 25 boar per 10km². Rewilding processes have brought woodlands to the city limits, blurring the boundary between rural and urban areas. The species has expanded beyond the hinterlands, colonising highly urbanised, densely populated city spaces in Genoa, drawn by the abundance of food waste created by humans.

In 2009, the infamous boar Pierino made his home at Righi, on the outskirts of Genoa, where he was routinely fed with focaccia by enthusiasts. Today, a family of wild boar call the Albergo dei Poveri – a historical hostel for the Genoese poor in the city centre – their home.

But while their antics are often recorded and shared with glee on social media, the threats posed by the presence of wild animals has become a preoccupation for the city’s municipal administration.

Boorish behaviour

Wild boar have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, and have proven to be particularly dangerous when with their young, attacking dogs and even people. The city council in Genoa has put forward many proposals to reduce the number of animals in the city, ranging from forced removals, to sterilisation, increased attention to waste disposal and approved hunts. About 90 wild boar were reportedly culled in 2018.

Needless to say, each of these measures has been hotly debated. Animal advocacy groups staunchly oppose the proposals, and sometimes obstruct the authorities’ attempts to take action, often sending patrols to care for the animals, and even give them names. But other residents are displeased with the animals’ presence in the city, and have consulted with the council on how to address the problems that they cause.

And so Genoa continues to grapple with thorny issues surrounding the presence of wild boar in the city, with the city authorities seeking to resolve a polemical issue that embroils the lives of animals and humans alike. So far, a collective, coherent and communally agreeable strategy has proven evasive; one that considers the need for public safety, hygiene and health with the ethical responsibilities towards to wild boar themselves.

Meanwhile, the animals themselves continue to lounge and forage beneath the Ponte Gerolamo Serra and elsewhere, bringing a little of the wilderness into the city.

The Conversation

Robert Hearn, Assistant Professor in Human Geography, University of Nottingham.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.