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Hard-up rural councils hit out at Eric Pickles spending cuts

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 31, 2012

Eric Pickles

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A rural backlash against cuts in local government spending which is predicted to hit shire counties harder than urban areas is set to spread across the Westcountry.

A coalition of more than 120 mostly Conservative rural authorities is calling on Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to perform a U-turn on the decision.

The group is considering bringing a judicial review against the recent spending settlement, which they say is "grossly unfair".

Councils in the Westcountry support the rebellion and have accused the Government of "spinning" the level of budget cuts.

The coalition, known as Sparse – Sparsity Partnership for Authorities Delivering Rural Services – said services in remote areas would "crucified" by the reductions.

It said bus routes, libraries, leisure centres, toilets and rural broadband were at risk along with care for the elderly and children as well as education support.

Devon County Council says Mr Pickles headline figure of a 1.7% drop in annual funding more than doubles to 3.6% in real terms.

Cornwall Council said it is considering joining the revolt after its financial experts were unable to even work out a final figure from the "loosely-worded" official document.

Council leader Jim Currie said he was "unimpressed" with the settlement, which has left officers forced to employ "guesswork" to draft next year's budget.

"We are fully sympathetic towards Sparse but cannot commit until we know the figures," he added.

"We have had our guys look at (the figures) with an experienced eye but there are so many ifs and buts and maybes that we just don't know what we have got.

"It has got a few people agitated and motivated."

Devon County Council cabinet member for resources John Clatworthy said the authority could "absorb" the extra drop, but only because of a raft of stringent cuts, including losing 500 staff a year as part of a recruitment freeze and axing almost an entire tier of middle management.

However, he revealed that cabinet papers due out next week would show a further cut of £19 million in 2014/15.

He added: "There is a lot of spin in this because Mr Pickles uses the words "spending power, which doesn't give a true indication – it gets harder and harder each year."

Just before Christmas, Mr Pickles announced next year's average grant reduction of 1.7% in "spending power" for councils across England as a "a bargain".

However, council leaders and MPs from rural constituencies in the deep-blue Tory heartlands, who will protest in person to the Communities Secretary next week, said the cuts will hit the countryside harder than towns and cities.

Campaigners said councils which were "predominantly rural" would see the amount given to them by central government cut by 3.81% compared to the average 2.05% in urban areas.

For authorities which were "significantly rural" the cut would average 5.21%.

Roger Begy, leader of Conservative-controlled Rutland Council and chairman of Sparse, said: "This is totally unfair and is going to crucify a lot of rural areas. People are going to be isolated."

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  • Mustafachat  |  January 01 2013, 8:04PM

    The council tax is much too much on a family budget, councils just waste the money easy come easy go. The whole thing should be scrapped and a more fairer form of tax should be found but that is too much effort, just milk what we have.

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  • conundrum  |  January 01 2013, 12:47PM

    So that's where all the pies went........

    |   1
  • nickthompson  |  January 01 2013, 10:52AM

    A coalition of more than 120 mostly Conservative rural authorities is calling on Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to perform a U-turn on the decision.----------------------------------------------------------Your getting what YOU voted for.

    |   1
  • Exeter007  |  December 31 2012, 8:05PM

    Not to mention the billions of pounds still going to the EU & foreign aid, why is that not being cut? I didn't see many people opposing the new police commissioners also now getting £80k a year plus..

    |   6
  • 147ref  |  December 31 2012, 7:32PM

    Why cant council just except Pickles is on the tax payers side saying the right things, come on to council leaders do the right thing and take a pay cut after all nearly everybody down here on about 15/20k do you need to be on 200k, personally think the government should say right, the lower pay staff that does full time on 13k means no manager can be on more than double the lower paid, so a manager cant take more than 26k, can only wish

    |   6
  • josdave  |  December 31 2012, 5:35PM

    The only time rural Tories will complain about a Tory government is when it hits their good lifestyle. They couldn't care less about the rest of those in rural communities who will be hard hit.

  • nicold  |  December 31 2012, 5:16PM

    When is Pickles going to cut back on his pies and do-nuts?...then we will follow his example of frugality!

    |   1