‘Budget cuts will hit rural councils most’

LOCAL authorities in rural areas will be hit hardest by the cuts from central Government announced this week, the top officer at a Suffolk council has claimed.

All councils are to be affected after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced a total funding shortfall of �6.5billion over the next year.

The average reduction in spending power will be 4.4% but Mid Suffolk District Council chief executive Andrew Good says his authority faces a 15.8% cut in 2011/12.

He said merging with Babergh District Council can only partly help fend off the shortfall.

Mr Good said that as rural councils faced higher costs for delivering services, such as refuse collection, it was unfair that many faced some of the heaviest cuts.

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He said: “We face the reality – there’s no whingeing about it. It’s what we have been dealt.

“It’s unfair but at the end of the day we have to deal with the 15.8% cut and what we do with Babergh will help but it won’t solve the problem.

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“Rural districts have far less leeway. Most rural councils are pretty lean already because they have learned to be over the years.

“For two out of the last four years we have been the most efficient [district] council [in England] when it comes to budgets.”

It was announced earlier this week that as part of the ongoing merger plans, the two councils would next year appoint a shared chief executive to oversee both authorities – just one way they will work together to reduce costs.

Mr Good added: “Mid Suffolk has been hit by 15.8% reduction in Government grant – after everything has been taken into account, we get that much less.

“We will respond in the normal way.

“We are a pretty good lot but this extra reduction and the �1.4million deficit we have already got means we come to the end of the line we have got with efficiency savings. Something has to go – it’s too early to say what.

“It highlights the fact that small district councils will not be able to exist in the future unless they do some fundamental reshaping, and that means merging.”

In announcing the cuts on Monday, Mr Pickles said the settlement was “progressive and fair” and that steps had been taken to protect the poorest areas which rely most heavily on public sector services.

There will also be an �85m transitional grant to help councils deal with the changes and a �650m pot from which to reward authorities that freeze their council tax bills.

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