Ministers accused in new town hall crisis

Communities and Local Government Minister Eric Pickles
Communities and Local Government Minister Eric Pickles
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LIBRARY closures, cuts in home helps, reduced leisure centre opening hours and fewer bin collections are among just some of the most visible signs of the swingeing cuts to council services in the region.

But the Yorkshire Post reveals today that council chiefs are warning of even worse to come as evidence grows of further cuts worth at least £100m in the region that they claim have been “hidden” in a series of technical changes to the way local authorities are funded, linked in part to reforms to the way business rates are distributed.

Town hall chiefs say it leaves them struggling to find extra cuts on top of existing plans for efficiencies while the final toll will only emerge in January – making effective planning ahead for setting new budgets in the four-six weeks afterwards “impossible”.

Communities and Local Government Minister Eric Pickles told MPs last year the changes to business rates would mean “no one will be worse off” under the new system, while Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made similar assurances at a meeting of local authority executives.

But council bosses say reality began to sink in when officials received a 200-page document during the summer detailing how the new business rate system will work which, coupled with a series of other adjustments, they calculate will leave them even worse off when they come into force on April 1.

Finance chiefs in Kirklees estimate they will lose a further £6.5m in 2012-13 on top of existing cuts rising to £10m the following year. In Doncaster, officials estimate extra cuts of £9m will rise to £13m by 2014-15 and in Sheffield, town hall bosses say cuts will be £10m for each of the next two years.

Tory leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Coun John Weighell, said his authority faced making a further £7.5m in cuts next year on top of a savings of £69m in the four years to 2015.

“This is compounded by the timing of the Government’s announcement as we only expect this to be confirmed in January, just months before we need to be making the savings,” he said.

A Local Government Association spokesman said “skimming” from the pot of local government funding would have “serious knock-on effects for local people” on top of the 28 per cent cut in the grant councils were receiving from the Government.

“In addition a number of costs, particularly in relation to adult social care, are rising rapidly, taking money away from other vital services,” he added.

“Local authorities have borne the brunt of the cuts. Piling further cuts on councils would be a terrible blow for local services, particularly if no solution is offered to the funding crisis in adult social care.”

Council officials claim cash is being withheld to fund new Government schemes among them the New Homes Bonus. Under the scheme, for every new home built and occupied, councils will receive a Government grant based on the home’s council tax band.

Yorkshire town hall bosses argue this will give local authorities in the South a bigger subsidy as those areas where the local economy is stronger and where more high value homes can be built – London and the South East – will get more, while areas where the recession has hit hardest and where house values are typically lower – the North – will get back less.