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Pickles accused of waging war on North-East councils
MINISTERS were accused last night of again waging war on North-East councils with "unfair" cuts - while authorities in leafy parts of the South escape the agony.
The overall spending power of North-East town halls will be slashed by up to 2.2 per cent next year and by a crushing five per cent-plus in most areas in 2014-15, the government announced.
The total blow for County Durham will be around £30m on the chosen measure of 'spending power', which includes council tax and other income, rather than simply government grants.
Yet, Tory-run West Oxfordshire - David Cameron's local council - is among many in the South that will enjoy a spending rise in 2013-14 and escape with just a small cut the following year.
In North Yorkshire, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Ryedale authorities will all have more to spend next year - and be forced to cut far less than North-East councils in 2014-15.
Last night, Simon Henig, Durham's Labour leader, condemned the "totally unfair" settlement, warning: "It's likely there will have to be a further round of reductions to services."
Mr Henig pointed out the county council already had to find £25m of cuts for next year, saying: "We have done our best to protect frontline services, but it becomes more and more difficult to do so.
"We have to ask why all councils in the North-East have reductions, while many in the South will have increases of three or four per cent next year?
It is totally unfair."
And Bill Dixon, Labour leader of Darlington Borough Council, warned of a £20m hit to its budget, adding: "There will be massive hits to services that we are currently running - and some will not be able to survive."
The cuts come despite ministers' repeated pledges to stabilise budgets for 2013-14, because of the uncertainties surrounding a complicated shake-up of business rates.
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, attempted to conceal the scale of the pain by refusing to release the figures for 2014-15, but The Northern Echo was able to obtain them form other sources.
And, in the Commons, Mr Pickles turned on the likes of Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon, when he attacked those council leaders who "have shamefully predicted riots on the streets".
He insisted: "Nostradamus needn't worry. Concerns that the poorest councils, or those in the North, would suffer disproportionately are well wide of the mark."
Last year, Mr Mallon warned of Cairo-style protests in suffering towns and cities, saying: "There is a simmering discontent and I think you can feel it on the street now."
The figures, seen by The Northern Echo, reveal slashing of spending power in Darlington (down 0.3 per cent and 4.4 per cent), Hartlepool (2.2 per cent and five per cent), Middlesbrough (0.7 per cent and 5.8 per cent) and Stockton-on-Tees (1.8 per cent and 4.3 per cent).
Some leaders have 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 rubbish.
But Mr Pickles insisted councils must "keep doing their bit" to plug the gaping hole in Britain's finances - and challenged all authorities to freeze council tax next year.
Pointing to £450m set aside to help town halls hold down bills, he told MPs: "All councils have a moral duty to freeze council tax. It doubled under Labour, it became unsustainable. We've cut it in real terms."
But they have been offered a grant equal to just a one per cent rise in council tax - far below the 2.7 per cent inflation rate - which points to further service cuts, where any authority freezes bills.
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