ANGRY council chiefs warn today a further £100m faces being axed from services in Yorkshire amid furious accusations that Ministers have broken funding promises to impose a series of “hidden” cuts.
Authority bosses say the shock new cuts, coming on top of existing plans to slash budgets, have come without warning in the details of landmark Government reforms to finances.
The bombshell has fuelled fears frontline services will suffer even greater pain well beyond deep cuts already planned in the Government’s austerity programme.
Town hall officials estimate a £100m cut is equivalent to 6,000 fewer care workers, four million hours of home care or 400 local libraries – and warn they could be even greater the following year.
Now they are demanding Ministers stick to their original pledge that no council would be worse off under a new system radically changing the way they are financed from April, or explain why they have made the U-turn – the latest in a series by the coalition.
They claim some of the changes will redistribute cash from northern authorities to those in the South and are warning the full impact will not be known until January, leaving them in an “impossible position” with only weeks to plan before budgets are agreed.
A survey of finance directors at 17 of the region’s 22 councils has found they expect to be £96m worse off amid claims the Government is holding back cash originally destined for them under complicated funding changes.
Council chiefs in Sheffield are predicting being £10m worse off next year, Leeds City Council says it will lose £7m, Kirklees faces a £6.5m cut and Rotherham Council another £8m reduction.
Coun Mehboob Khan, leader of Kirklees Council and chairman of the independent cross-party alliance Local Government Yorkshire and Humber, said the extra scale of cuts was “staggering”.
“This is unacceptable, unreasonable and undemocratic – particularly given that we had both Eric Pickles’ and Nick Clegg’s personal promises that ‘no council would be worse off’ in the new system,” he said.
“It’s critical that we make sure that Ministers really understand the local impact of these finance reforms, including the fact that councils in the North look to be subsidising those in the South. In short, all we’re asking for is a fair deal, yet these reforms are far from fair.”
Doncaster Mayor Peter Davies, whose authority faces another £9m in cuts, branded the move “outrageous”.
“With planning and foresight we have been striving to provide the best quality services to our residents but it is extremely difficult to get so far and then have to start again because the Government makes more unplanned cuts,” he said. “While all this is going on there is no apparent evidence of cuts in civil service budgets and we still await with some excitement the bonfire of quangos. It appears there is one law for Whitehall and another for those of us in local government.”
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “The new reforms deliver an opportunity for a £10bn boost to the wider economy over the next seven years, and more business rate revenues for councils to support frontline services. Councils will have a strong incentive to go for growth, pay off the deficit and still protect vulnerable communities.”