FURTHER council cuts are being rammed through with no assessment of whether libraries and youth services will be culled, a watchdog warns today (Wednesday, November 18).

The Government comes under fire for failing to properly examine the impact of slashing town hall funding by an extra ten per cent, ahead of next year’s general election.

Some unnamed authorities are showing “clear signs of financial stress” as the harsh cuts continue, the National Audit Office (NAO) has concluded.

And, in a stinging rebuke, Amyas Morse, the NAO’s head, said: “The department really needs to be better informed about the situation on the ground among local authorities across England.”

No less than 56 per cent of metropolitan and unitary councils far they “will not meet medium-term savings targets”, the watchdog found.

They are likely to include many in the North-East and North Yorkshire, which face among the biggest reductions in ‘spending power’ in 2015-16, when the extra ten per cent cuts kick in.

Among the worst hit are Middlesbrough (down 5.7 per cent), Hartlepool (4.7 per cent), Sunderland (four per cent), Redcar and Cleveland (3.1 per cent) and County Durham (2.6 per cent).

Yet, incredibly, many Southern councils will enjoy a spending boost – including Surrey (up 2.8 per cent), Buckinghamshire (2.4 per cent), Hampshire (2.5 per cent) and Sussex (2.4 per cent).

The NAO discovered the department for education failed to assess how the cuts would hit councils’ duty to give young people “sufficient leisure-time recreational activities”.

Similarly, the department for culture, media and sport “did not attempt to quantify potential impacts on libraries or explicitly address their sustainability”.

On the assessment made by the Government, the NAO concluded: “Service areas such as libraries, youth services and trading standards were not covered.”

Today’s report also criticises the Government for:

* Failing to properly measure the “financial challenge facing local authorities” – because ‘spending power’ (including council tax) does not show changes “over more than one year”.

* Failing to assess whether its plans for councils to share services, among other changes, will deliver the desperately-needed savings.

* Knowledge gaps which mean “its information on whether an authority is close to failure is weak”.

* Relying on surveys as evidence that councils have maintained their services - despite their small samples, often asking people who do not rely on those services.

* Insisting councils can plug spending gaps by raising council tax – when they must first hold, and win, expensive referendums.

By 2015-16, the average council will have lost 25 per cent of its overall ‘spending power’ since the 2010 election – but lost 37 per cent of its government funding.

And, while those councils with the smallest cuts have cut spending on adult social care by only 1.2 per cent, the hardest hit – including most in this region – have slashed spending by 12.7 per cent.