Councils using poor as battering ram in cuts fight, says Pickles

LOCAL Government Secretary Eric Pickles has accused some councillors of "using the poor as a battering ram" and seeking to relive fights from the Thatcher era amid anger over town hall funding cuts.

In an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Post, he insisted authorities would have as much money to spend as in 2005-6 rather than "returning them to some kind of dark age" and said councils should ignore local rivalries and share chief executives and major departments to cut costs.

"There is an element – I can't believe it would happen in Yorkshire, where there's some sensible authorities – but there is an element who just seem to want to use the poor as a battering ram, they want to relive their youth, they think it's 1980 again," he said.

"You know, this country's in a terrible financial mess. We aren't going to get out of it by sweet talk now and a couple of years down the line having to find some really stringent cuts because this is nothing compared to what we'd be faced with were things to go really badly."

Mr Pickles has been vilified by councils who have seen Government funding cut by up to 23 per cent over the next two years. Even the Tory-led Local Government Association has warned front-line service cuts and significant job losses are inevitable, despite Ministers saying more back office savings could protect services.

Many deprived areas will lose a bigger percentage of their funding, although they will still receive more hard cash than richer areas and Mr Pickles says he "genuinely tried" to protect poorer areas.

Rejecting the fury over the cuts, Mr Pickles said: "It isn't like I'm returning them to some kind of dark age. It's returning to the way things were in 2005-6 in terms of their spending. The truth is if you take the politics out of it they aren't facing significantly bigger cuts than they would have faced under Labour."

Shadow Local Government Secretary Caroline Flint said: "Accusing councils of deliberately putting front-line services at risk shows just how desperate Eric Pickles has become to avoid the truth – that the Tory-led government has deliberately chosen to hit councils with the worst cuts in a generation."said: "He's worked his way up to high office and it's very distressing to think that he might lose all that he has made for himself.

"He's an excellent MP who is held in high esteem in this area. He's a credit to the working class."

A woman aged 43, who did not want to be named, said Mr Johnson's sometimes less than assured performances as shadow chancellor may have had owed more to his personal problems than his grasp of economics.

"One might have affected the other," she said.

"He is one of the few politicians people can identify with, rather than someone who's gone to Eton. Somebody who was orphaned and came from that kind of background, to get to lead a union and act for the Labour Party in the way he did was a real achievement.

"As a Labour voter I think it's a great loss to the Labour Party and the loss of a voice for the common voter."

Claire Stockton, founder of the Hull charity for disabled children, The Echoes Foundation, said: "He's been a pillar of support, not just for the charity but for me as a mother of a severely disabled son. He's been my MP for 10-plus years and he's helped me out on two occasions. He's the most sincere, loyal person that I know."