Funding for English councils fell by 21% between 2009-10 and 2017-18, according to a report by Britain’s leading independent economics thinktank.
The funding system for English councils is “unsustainable” and the government must take action to address it, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said.
Spending on planning and housing services dropped by more than 50% while leisure and transport departments saw cuts of more than 40%.
Researchers for the IFS said things are set to get worse as revenues from council tax and business rates are unlikely to keep pace with rising costs – particularly around social care – and increasing demand for services.
These factors mean councils across England could need for £51.8bn in extra funding by 2025, analysis by PwC and the County Councils Network (CCN) found earlier this month.
David Phillips, IFS associate director, said: “Current plans for councils to rely on council tax and business rates for the vast bulk of their funding don’t look compatible with our expectations of what councils should provide.
“A proper national debate on how much we are willing to pay and what we expect of councils is therefore needed.
“Without it, we will default to a situation where the services councils can provide are gradually eroded without an explicit decision being taken - until ad hoc funding is found as a response to political pressure.”
The cuts in spending has resulted in the loss of services such as libraries, leisure centres and bus routes.
At least 846 public libraries have been closed since 2010, according to figures from library association Cilip, which has left several local authorities with the lowest library provision in Europe.
Figures from Sport England reveal that a total of 366 swimming pools closed across the UK during 2016 and 2017. During the same two years, a total of 261 swimming pools were also built – a net closure of 105 pools in just two years.
Despite their levels of use, almost 17,000 bus routes have disappeared over five years across the UK, according to the Traffic Commissioner’s annual report. The Campaign for Better Transport says there has been a £182m – or 45% – cut in local authority-supported bus services since 2010.
In March, HuffPost UK reported that local government funding crisis has become so dire that councils are being forced to sell thousands of public spaces, such as libraries, community centres and playgrounds – and are using some of the cash to pay for further service cuts and redundancy payments.
In a double blow to communities, local authorities are using the money raised from selling off buildings and land to pay for hundreds of job losses, including in vital frontline services.
Richard Watts, chairman of the Local Government Association’s resources board, said the government’s upcoming spending review will be “make or break” for local services.
He added: “If the government fails to adequately fund local government in the spending review then there is a real risk to the future financial viability of some services and councils.
“Fully funding councils is the only way to ensure councils can continue to provide all of the valued local services which make such a positive difference to communities and people’s lives.”
Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s local government spokesman, said the government needs to “wake up and smell the coffee” on council funding.
He added: “The human cost of the cuts to services is appalling.
“Local government is under enormous pressure because of politically motivated cuts that have hit the poorest areas hardest.
“Tory cuts mean councils have lost 60p out of every £1 that the last Labour government was spending on local government.”