Spending cuts on an unprecedented scale
Much-needed council services are facing the axe as the Government looks to its Comprehensive Spending Review to balance the books. Mark Tallentire reports.
THE region’s councils are facing cuts of a scale never seen before, which can only be made by reducing frontline services.
That is the warning from Councillor Simon Henig, Labour leader of Durham County Council, the North- East’s biggest local authority.
His council faces having to save £18m this year and £100m over four years, with subsidised bus routes and council offices likely to be in the firing line.
He said: “Cuts of this magnitude can only be made by reducing frontline services.
“There is no alternative.
This is of a magnitude that has never been known before.”
The region’s councils are already facing £400m of cuts by 2014, including £45m within months.
And with Treasury officials putting the final touches to the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) ahead of the announcement on Wednesday, October 20, worse could be yet to come.
Coun Henig said: “It is a sombre mood.”
He appealed for the cuts not to be “front-loaded” – requiring greater reductions in the first year – and for individual councils’ figures to be made available as soon as possible.
However, with the Government keen to be seen to be making a start on reducing the national deficit, his wish may go unheeded.
Either way, council finance chiefs will face a race against time to push through the cuts necessary before annual budgets are set early in the new year.
At Darlington Borough Council, residents are facing £22m of cuts over four years, with bus routes, after-school clubs, travel concessions for elderly and disabled people and CCTV management set to be heavily reduced. Thirtythree jobs have already gone and more could follow.
Councillor John Williams, the authority’s Labour leader for 20 years, has vowed to stay on until May, as the cuts bite.
But, announcing his retirement, he said the coming months would be a tough ride and that the council had no choice but to implement the cuts.
North Yorkshire County Council is facing £100m of savings over four years, with public transport and children’s services likely to be hardest hit.
Hartlepool Borough Council is expected to cut up to £25m, Sunderland City Council must reduce its budget by about £70m, Middlesbrough councillors fear a 20 per cent spending squeeze and other councils face similar reductions.
Tees Valley councils are reviewing their museums, arts funding is at risk and projects to rebuild secondary schools across the region were axed as the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme was scrapped this summer.
Coun Henig railed against the coalition Government’s agenda, saying there was no reason to eliminate the national deficit within four years.
He said: “If you tried to pay off a mortgage in four years, the repayments would be through the roof. That is what is happening here.
“It is the Government’s decision that will cause the hurt and pain.”
With one in three North- East workers in the public sector, more than half of council spending going on staff costs and women making up 70 per cent of the local government workforce, there are reasons to be nervous all round.