Two councils defy capping limit

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The Independent Online
Gloucestershire County and Newcastle Borough councils yesterday voted to set budgets which breached the Government's capping limit. The defiance was backed by Tory councillors.

At Gloucestershire, the council voted 37-24 in favour of a joint Liberal- Democrat Conservative plan to spend almost £5m above the £300m limit set by the Department of the Environment for the financial year starting on 1 April. Labour councillors had called for an even larger over-spend.

At Newcastle, the key policy and resources committee voted for a £236m budget, £2.3m above the capping limit. It is expected to be endorsed next week.

``It's a risk well worth taking,'' said Tony Flynn, leader of the ruling Labour group. He claimed the people of the city were behind the council's defiance in the face of the toughest spending round for local government in decades. Both councils risk the Government ruling that they are over- spending and legally compel them to cut their budgets.

In Scotland, the ruling Labour group of councillors on Strathclyde Regional Council - the largest in Britain - voted for a budget which could be construed as breaching its capping limit. The full council will decide on the budget on 7 March.

Strathclyde, which has a budget of £3bn, would have had to make cuts of £107m to meet its capping limit. Labour has decided on £71m of cuts, and hopes to meet the remainder by classifying routine maintenance spending as capital expenditure, although the Government's Scottish Office may well refuse to accept this.

The decisions came as school governors sought an urgent meeting with John Major to discuss the crisis in education spending.

The National Governors' Council warned the Prime Minister that unless a solution was found, the Government faced a growing revolt.

NGC chairman Simon Goodenough told Mr Major: "Your ministers and MPs have told school governors to tighten their belts and blame their local authorities. But in many schools, governors have run out of holes on their belts and are down to holes in the system, through which many children will fall."