A senior West MP accused the Government of getting local councils to do its ‘dirty work’ as it announced ‘depressing’ funding levels for next year.
Bristol South MP Dawn Primarolo said the fresh austerity moves announced by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles would be disastrous for council services in the region.
It comes amid fears that up to 80 firefighter jobs in the Avon area are at risk due to squeezed finances.
However, an unrepentant Mr Pickles urged authorities to make more savings – including cutting pay, scrapping chief executive posts and ending councillor pensions.
Councils in England will see their spending power reduced by 1.7 per cent next year, he announced, leading to warnings of more cuts to services.
He added that it means council tax can be frozen for a third consecutive year, but the Unison union said libraries, day centres and youth clubs were already closing under previous cuts, care was being rationed, and young people found that careers advice had “all but disappeared”.
Mr Pickles told MPs the settlement represented a “bargain” for local authorities, adding that the Government would offer support for the third year so that council taxes could be frozen. A small number of local authorities will require larger savings to be made, but Mr Pickles said no council will face a loss of more than 8.8 per cent of their total spending power thanks to a new efficiency support grant.
“As the name implies, to qualify, councils will have to improve services to receive this grant. It is unfair on the rest of local government to expect them to subsidise other councils’ failure to embrace modernity,” he said.
Mr Pickles said councils were “sitting on” a record £16billion of reserves, adding: “Councils must keep doing their bit to tackle the inherited budget deficit because they account for a quarter of all public spending and still get through over £114 billion of taxpayers’ money each year.”
The 1.7 per cent cut in spending power from next April compares with last year’s comparable figure of 3.3 per cent.
The Government published a list of “sensible savings” ideas for councils, ranging from opening a coffee shop in the local library to cancelling “glitzy” award ceremonies. The 50 tips for town halls also include cutting spending on consultants and agency staff. They should also get rid of town hall “Pravda” newspapers.
It means Bristol City Council will have to cope with a 6.5 per cent cut in its spending over the next two years.
Meanwhile, North Somerset Council faces a total reduction of 5.3 per cent over two years,
South Gloucestershire Council a fall of 4.4 per cent and Bath and North East Somerset a cut of 5.1 per cent over the same period.
Meanwhile Somerset County Council leader John Osman said: “Whatever the grant settlement is from Government, I am committed to not increasing our council tax demand for 2013/14.”
However Mrs Primarolo said: “These figures are disastrous for Bristol, and it is deeply depressing that Eric Pickles seems to want councils to do the Government’s dirty work.”
It also emerged yesterday that budget cuts could lead to 80 firefighters at Avon Fire and Rescue Service losing their jobs.
The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) and Avon Fire Authority believe they will have to find savings of around £3.5million in the next two years. Chris Taylor, brigade secretary of Avon FBU, said: "We’ve already seen a 30 per cent cut in jobs of support staff in the service and now the only cuts left will be front-line staff. The £3.5 million represents approximately 80 firefighters’ posts.”
Avon and Somerset’s Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said the £177.3million for policing in Avon and Somerset for 2013/2014 is ‘in line with expectations’.
But she added: “It is disappointing that the response to the consultation on the unfair funding formula which sees Avon and Somerset miss out on £20 million has been postponed until the next Comprehensive Spending Review (2015/16). So again our area will continue to miss out on money it is assessed to need.”