THE CONSERVATIVE leader of Scarborough Borough Council has warned the Government that its policy on spending cuts could result in chaos.
Councillor Tom Fox also said in an email to communities secretary Eric Pickles that the policies could lead to a postcode lottery for council services.
The correspondence was sent to Mr Pickles on 10 January, after it was announced that the council would be forced to save £4.2 million over the next two and a half years. Although publicly the council insisted they were well positioned to deal with the settlement and preserve front-line services, the strongly-worded email, made public under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals the frustration felt within the Town Hall at the frontloading of the cuts.
In the next financial year, the council’s government grant will be cut by 14.6 per cent – almost double the expected figure.
It means the council will have to save £2.5 million in the 2011/12 financial year, an increase of £400,000 on what it had been expecting.
Coun Fox wrote: “The reform agenda presents a great challenge, and whilst I accept and agree it gives an opportunity to change things for the better, the frontloading of the Comprehensive Spending Review creates massive issues in itself.
“We were already well advanced with change and reshaping the organisation but to work, reform must be based on long-term, strategic principles, and around the needs of local people.
“Engaging the community, breaking down the barriers between local government and the taxpayer, is essential in ensuring the right changes are made.
“I mention the strategic principles, and wish to emphasise that I have concerns that the government is not engaging any strategic principles for councils save big cuts and large job losses.”
Coun Fox also criticised a lack of cohesion between government departments and stated that the “massive” cuts in the next financial year may result in the council losing authority and making it impossible to implement the Big Society agenda.
He added: “Government says Big Society is all about giving citizens and local government the power to build the Britain they want.
“Giving us the responsibility is fine but with that has to come authority and the massive withdrawal of funding in the first traunch of the review is something you will need to keep a ‘weather’ eye on.
“Otherwise we will end up with a postcode lottery for council services, much like the health service was held up to be criticised for. “We do not appear to have join-up between Government departments and unless there is we will have nothing but chaos.”
In reply, MP Bob Neill, who answered the email on behalf of Mr Pickles, thanked Coun Fox for his views and assured him that they would be taken into consideration.
The leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Coun John Weighell, also expressed his displeasure at Government policy in a private letter that was subsequently made public under the Freedom of Information Act.
He said: “The timescale that we are now expected to reduce budgets further is bound to result in a higher impact on frontline services than any of us would want.”
County council chief exectutive Richard Flinton sent an accompanying letter, in which he warned that cuts would be “devastating” for service delivery if they are not reassesed.
The revelations show that Conservative-led councils, as well as those led by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, are voicing displeasure at the speed and levels of cuts.
A spokesman for the department for communities said: “It’s no surprise that, in a response to a Government funding consultation, councils asked to be subsidised with more taxpayers’ money.
“But every bit of the public sector needs to do its bit to pay off Labour’s deficit.”