Cuts to council funding 'deeper in poorest areas'

Official figures show cuts to local council funding are on average four times deeper in the poorest areas of the country than the best off, Labour said today.

Shadow local government minister Caroline Flint published analysis by the House of Commons library which she said showed Tory areas were "getting off much lighter".

She said there was also a large gulf between the fates of authorities in the constituencies of Conservative Cabinet ministers and their Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues.

Town hall chiefs are warning of cuts to jobs and services after the Government gave details this week of a 17% reduction in central grants for 2011/12 - the first of a four-year squeeze.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles insisted the package was "progressive and fair" because steps had been taken to protect the poorest areas which rely most heavily on public sector services.

But Ms Flint said the figures showed they were not being imposed in a fair way.

The most deprived 10% of single-tier authorities would see their spending power reduced by 8.4% next year compared with 2.2% for the best off.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's council in Sheffield would suffer a cut of 8.4% while Witney in Oxfordshire, where Prime Minister David Cameron is MP, would suffer only a 1.9% reduction.

"These figures confirm what many feared - we're not all in this together," Ms Flint said.

"In some cases, the cuts are nearly nine times as big. That's unfair and it shows just how out of touch this Government is with ordinary people.

"Eric Pickles must now explain why the hardest-pressed towns and cities up and down the country are faced with spending cuts substantially greater than the best off areas."

Housing minister Grant Shapps said: "The settlement is fair and progressive with steps taken to cushion councils most dependent on central Government grants, and be fair across England.

"But this is crude politics by Labour - trying to play one part of the country off against each other for narrow partisan gain. If they think shire areas should take an even greater reduction in funding, they should be honest and be held to account in May's local elections."

Mr Clegg will hold talks today with the leader of the Liberal Democrats' local councillors who this weekend said Mr Pickles's behaviour over the cuts to councils was a "disgrace".

Richard Kemp, who sits on Liverpool City Council, accused the Cabinet minister and Mr Shapps of acting "like Laurel and Hardy" and trying to hide the true impact on local services.

He will urge the Deputy Prime Minister to act to slow the introduction of the funding cuts.

"I hope that Nick Clegg will clearly understand the problems that local government is facing and will work with us on arranging ways to ameliorate them."

Town halls could absorb the level of cuts being demanded but needed them to be less "front loaded" to allow time to find ways to prevent services being so badly affected, he said.

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