A CABINET minister yesterday told North-East council leaders to stop moaning about painful spending cuts - accusing them of talking "complete tosh".
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, ripped into town hall bosses, insisting the savings could be found from smarter procurement deals, shared working with neighbouring councils and curbing administration costs.
Mr Pickles flatly rejected the evidence that poorer, urban areas were being hit by steeper cuts than wealthier parts of England - describing that claim as "absolutely ludicrous".
And he turned his fire on Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle City Council, which plans to axe its entire £2.5m budget for arts organisations, as it strives to save £90m a year.
Accusing Mr Forbes of aiming to "send a message" to ministers, Mr Pickles said; "There's only one reason why it's been cut and that's Nick's decision.
"It's time he took some of the responsibility on to his own shoulders and dealt with it. And if he can't deal with it, then stand aside and let someone else deal with it."
The blast came a few weeks after the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) warned of a further £100m of "stealth cuts" - and an extra 1,000 job losses - about to strike the region's town halls.
They set out a grim future when local councils will have no money to do anything other than provide care for the vulnerable and collect the weekly rubbish.
But, talking to The Northern Echo at Westminster, Mr Pickles said: "It wouldn't matter if David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband, or Mao Tse-tung was running the government - the level of public spending was going to come down.
"Council leaders were warned it was coming down, they were warned by Labour it was coming down, and some chose to ignore that.
"And some have chosen to use the poor as a battering ram - and I think that's a dereliction of duty."
Mr Pickles urged any council wanting to raise more cash to face the voters - by staging and winning a referendum, required for any planned council tax rise above two per cent.
He added: "Funnily enough, in all these cries and screams of 'we can't cope' that's the one option they are not prepared to go with."
But Simon Henig, the Labour leader of Durham County Council - which has also cut £90m from its budget - said: "Eric Pickles is in complete denial about the impact of government cuts and the year-on-year nature of them.
"His department also appears to have done no monitoring of the impact of those cuts on individual councils. It's not just North-East councils making these comments."
And Mr Forbes added: "Mr Pickles is feeling the heat of our lobbying. I hope that we are beginning to persuade him of the consequences of many of the unfair government cuts.
"As leader of the city council, it is my job to fight for Newcastle - and if Mr Pickles does not like that, then I make no apology."