Yorkshire hit by £230m of cuts – with warning of worse to come

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles
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councils in Yorkshire have cut spending on services by more than £230m – and are already bracing themselves for more in 12 months time.

Analysis of council budgets by the Yorkshire Post suggests that children’s services have been hit by more than £60m in cuts while services aimed at adults, such as care for the elderly, have lost around £45m.

Councils have also been scrabbling to raise income by increasing charges and raiding reserves.

Finance chiefs are already forecasting further gaps in local authority budgets next year that will need to be filled with a fresh round of savings or rises in taxes and charges.

As council tax bills start to drop through letter boxes, thousands of Yorkshire residents are seeing increases for the first time in three years as more authorities turn down Government incentives to freeze bills.

Leeds MP Hilary Benn, the Shadow Local Government Secretary, said: “Leeds has of course frozen its council tax, but many councils across the country, run by all parties, have not been able to do so because it would leave them with big financial problems, indeed even David Cameron’s local council have put up their council tax.

“The fundamental problem is that the Chancellor is cutting central funding, demanding council tax doesn’t increase and then blaming local authorities because libraries, SureStarts and jobs are cut back.

“This is a funding crisis for councils made in Downing Street. Councils have suffered disproportionately large and unfair cuts and, even worse, the cuts have hit Yorkshire harder than other places.”

But the Government, which has given authorities £450m this year to keep bills down, insists there is greater scope for saving without damaging services.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said: “Our latest figures show that at least 257 councils have signed up to our freeze deal and the combined effort of our action means council tax bills have fallen by 9.5 per cent in real terms since 2010 – compared to a doubling of bills [under Labour].

“All councils have a duty to support their residents, and if they want to put up council tax they will be accountable to their electorate.”

The Government will set out its spending plans from 2015 in June and councils are expecting further funding reductions, particularly if Ministers continue to protect other areas such as the NHS.

York Council leader James Alexander said: “With 30 per cent Government funding cuts, things have been extremely bad for local councils but will get progressively worse in the years to come.

“Smaller district councils, including some in our own region, are particularly susceptible to going bankrupt, with West Somerset being the most high profile at-risk council to date.

“If local government cuts were mirrored elsewhere in the public sector, the deficit would be gone. Some areas should be protected, but local councils cannot bear the brunt on their own. The Government will not get the growth it wants if it cripples councils through such low funding settlements.”

However, former Kirklees Council leader Robert Light, a deputy chairman of the Local Government Association, insists councils can adapt.

“There is a growing consensus that we will all have to do things differently in the future and what was accepted practice in the past is not sustainable in the future.

“Local authorities need to adopt a position of ensuring services are available rather than delivering them. I think that is a fundamental change, wherever you are on the political spectrum, that is difficult for many to accept.

“If you want to see growth on a local basis, local authorities are the major driver and lever to do that.

“If you want to see places develop their identities and have the right services for the area it is local authorities that should have that lead role.”