Council cuts to plug a £10billion coronavirus black hole could trigger a spike in violent crime and county lines drug dealing, Labour warned tonight.
The party feared a summer of riots if youth services are slashed as town halls bid to cope with the economic fallout from the pandemic.
At the start of the crisis, the Conservatives told local authorities they would provide “whatever funding is needed for councils to get through this and come out the other side”.
But under-fire Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, who is locked in a planning row over a billionaire Conservative donor who wanted to kickstart a property development, later warned local leaders not to “labour under a false impression” that Covid-19-related costs above and beyond what had been expected of them will be reimbursed.
His Labour counterpart Steve Reed fears cash-strapped councils could curb youth services, which experts say keep youngsters out of trouble.
The Shadow Communities Secretary said: “Councils play a critical role in stopping crime before it starts by funding support and activities for young people most at risk of getting into trouble, but that funding is now under threat.
“If the Government forces councils to cut crime prevention at a time of community tensions and rising unemployment shortly after easing the Covid-19 lockdown, we could face an incredibly difficult summer.
“These circumstances have worrying echoes of the period before the 2011 riots.
“The Government has been warned about the disastrous impact of cutting youth services.
“If they continue to ignore these warnings, the only thing they will ‘level up’ is the amount of crime in communities.
“Ministers must keep their promise to support communities and not force councils to make severe cuts in the middle of a global health pandemic while the economy teeters on the brink of recession.”
Councils are braced for a £13bn funding back hole in 2020/21, fuelled by extra spending and town halls taking less money than planned.
The Government has so far handed authorities £3.2bn to make up the shortfall, Labour says – leaving a gap of nearly £10bn.
Cuts to council budgets over the last decade have already seen youth services reduced.
A Commons Home Affairs Select Committee report last July said “the current epidemic of youth violence has been exacerbated by a perfect storm emerging from cuts to youth services”.
Mr Jenrick told town hall leaders on March 16, just as the pandemic was starting to grip the world, that “the Government stands ready to do whatever is necessary to support councils in their response to coronavirus ”, according to a press notice issued at the time.
He said: “As part of the national effort to keep the public safe and deliver essential public services, this Government stands with local councils at this difficult time.
“My absolute priority is to ensure they are well placed to respond to coronavirus and protect vital services, including social care.
“Everyone needs to play their part to help the most vulnerable in society and support their local economy, and the Government will do whatever is necessary to support these efforts.”
But seven weeks later, he warned councils that “we wouldn’t want anybody to labour under a false impression that what they are doing will be guaranteed funded by central government”.
There are now fears further cuts could lead to greater unrest as rising youth unemployment bites, coupled with the long closures of schools and colleges and young people gathering as restrictions are eased.
Labour pointed to the rising number of illegal raves and parties as challenges facing the police.
A Government spokeswoman said of Labour’s claims: “This is unsubstantiated speculation.
“We’re giving councils unprecedented support with £3.7bn funding to tackle the pressures they have told us they’re facing, including support for vulnerable children and young people.
“We kept school places open for these children during the pandemic and are investing over £380m to help communities support those at risk of exploitation and involvement in serious violence.
“Plus, our new multi-billion pound employment, training and apprenticeships schemes will benefit hundreds of thousands of young people.”