North councils to face £179m in cuts while some Southern authorities see rise in Government funding (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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North councils to face £179m in cuts while some Southern authorities see rise in Government funding
THE region has been hammered with a further £179m of council cuts – while many authorities in the South will enjoy a spending rise.
Town halls in the North-East and North Yorkshire will lose up to £1 in every £9 of their ‘spending power’ between 2014 and 2016, ministers announced yesterday (Wednesday, December 18).
Yet, many councils in Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire will receive a spending boost over the two-year period, official figures show.
The average loss across England is 4.7 per cent – less than the financial blow about to strike almost all of this region’s councils.
The stark divide provoked angry clashes in the Commons, where Labour accused the Government of punishing the poorest areas with the largest cuts.
Hilary Benn, the party’s local government spokesman, said: “Why are the most disadvantaged communities once again being the hardest hit? How on earth can he justify that?”
The Tory-led Local Government Association (LGA) also warned the next two years will be “the toughest yet for people who rely on the vital everyday local services that councils provide”.
Simon Henig, Durham’s Labour leader, said the cuts in direct Government grants were even bigger – 11 per cent next year and 16 per cent in 2015-16.
He said: “This confirms our worst fears. We need to cut another £60m over two years, on top of approximately £120m already cut from our budgets.
“There is a sharp disparity between North and South, even in the government’s own spending power figures - some Southern councils see spending power going up!”
In the Commons, local government minister Brandon Lewis provoked astonishment when he told MPs: “This is a good news day for local government.”
But, Mr Lewis insisted: “We have tried to be fair to every part of the country - North and South, rural and urban, metropolitan and shire.”
And he told any council planning frontline cuts to stop “playing political games”, advising it should “be more efficient with its back office and look at how to use its reserves to invest for the future.”
The department for communities and local government (DCLG) said county councils in the shires had been given extra cash to meet rising social care costs.
However, the likes of Durham, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool - as unitary authorities - are also responsible for social care and faces similar challenges.
Town halls were again urged to freeze council tax next year, although they are not fully reimbursed by Whitehall for the cost of doing so.
And ministers hinted they may lower the threshold at which any proposed rise triggers a local referendum. At present, it stands at two per cent.
John Weighell, Conservative leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said its position remained “extremely challenging” – despite escaping the worst pain yesterday.
He said the authority would have to find a further £77m of cuts over the next four years, on top of £94m already identified.
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