GOVERNMENT spending cuts are hitting poorer northern councils much harder than their richer southern counterparts, it has been claimed.

Councils face losing an average 40 per cent of their income over four years, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study found. It said the most deprived councils were facing the most severe cuts in spending power – adding weight to claims of a growing North- South divide.

Liverpool, England’s poorest council, faces the biggest cut for 2011-12 (11.34 per cent – £162 per person), while Wokingham, the richest council, is expected to lose only £4 per person (0.61 per cent).

South Tyneside, England’s 38th poorest council, faces the biggest cut in this region (10.49 per cent, £130 per person) – placing it fifth overall, while Hartlepool, the 23rd poorest, faces the eighth biggest cut (10.39 per cent, £132 per person).

Hartlepool mayor Stuart Drummond said North-East councils’ pleas for fairer funding were falling on deaf ears.

He said: “There is only one thing going to happen: the more affluent areas will get more affluent and the poor areas will get poorer. If this continues, there will be huge divides across the country for generations to come. Whether that is deliberate Government policy or not, that is what is happening.”

Simon Henig, the leader of Durham County Council, which is expected to lose £180m a year by 2017, said: “The poor areas are being hit the hardest. It is totally unfair.

“It was not the people of the North-East who caused the financial meltdown, but they are being made to pay for it.”

Foundation chief executive Julia Unwin said vulnerable people were being doubly hit with faster cuts and lack of protection from their impact.

A Government spokesman said the spending settlement was fair between north and south, rural and urban and metropolitan and shire areas.

He said: “Funding is being directed to where it is needed most so councils can protect the frontline services people rely on, shield the most vulnerable places, safeguard the most vulnerable people and protect taxpayers’ interests.”

Many councils are expected to publish budget proposals for 2012-13 next week.