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Sunday, 26 October 2014

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Long-term fears raised over government cuts to Cumbria

SOUTH Cumbrian council leaders are facing up to how to cope with yet more cuts.

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CONCERNS: Number crunching has started at town halls throughout the county, including Barrow, pictured. Inset clockwise from top, Barrow Borough Council leader Councillor Dave Pidduck, Copeland Borough Council leader, Councillor Elaine Woodburn, and South Lakeland District Council leader Councillor Peter Thornton CHRIS WARNER REF: 0273104

The number crunching at town halls began yesterday morning after secretary of state for communities and local government, Eric Pickles, revealed further cuts to council spending power late on Wednesday afternoon.

And South Cumbrian council leaders have said they have long-term worries about the level of reductions, although they will be able to cope with the cuts in the short term.

Barrow Borough Council is facing the largest drop of any Cumbrian council, losing the maximum of 8.8 per cent of its annual spend, and is one of the hardest-hit authorities in the country.

Leader of Barrow Borough Council, Councillor Dave Pidduck, said a transition grant of £1.1m should mean the council would be able to cope with the cuts in the new financial year.

He said: “Basically, our budget strategy anticipated £5.6m in a budget support grant plus a council tax support grant which was anticipated at £800,000, which meant we anticipated getting £6.4m, but it seems we will be receiving £5.8m, including the council tax support.

“This means we have a shortfall of £600,000. We are one of seven councils that has been handed a reduction of more than 8.8 per cent.

“However, the phase two grant of £1.1m should cover this. It is an efficiency support grant but we don’t know exactly what these are yet.

“The bottom line is that the budget should be balanced for the year 2013 but obviously after Christmas we will be looking at what we have to do to make savings after that.”

Cllr Pidduck said the cut suggested that the government expected the council to cut its budget by £1.1m and that it was frustrating to again be subject to such a high reduction, with Barrow the second worst-hit authority last year.

A spokeswoman for the department for communities and local government said the cuts were fair and that although there were no specific conditions that authorities would have to meet to gain the transition grant, councils were expected to embrace 50 ways to save money suggested by Mr Pickles.

South Lakeland District Council is facing a drop of around £120,000 which leader Councillor Peter Thornton said it should be able to absorb – but there were worries about long term funding.

He said: “Eric Pickles lives in another world. Frankly, compared to him, the average council is as lean and healthy as a whippet, with very little capacity to lose more.”

Copeland is to see its spending power drop by 4.6 per cent, and leader Councillor Elaine Woodburn claimed that the cut in grant directly threatened services.

She said: “I am disappointed but I am not surprised. We have a government that just doesn’t seem to help the local communities and doesn’t want us to get better.”

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