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Con-Dems drop cuts bomb on councils

MPs warn there's no money left after ministers raid big cities to protect shires

Outraged MPs representing some of Britain's most deprived communities rounded on Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis after he hit English councils with another multimillion-pound cuts bombshell yesterday.

Big cities were the big losers under plans to slash £1.4 billion from local authority budgets next year.

Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner accused the Tory-led government of plotting to "wreck the public sector and bring local government to its knees."

In a bid to dress up huge cuts for urban councils Mr Lewis repeatedly referred to the "per household" figure of funding.

He boasted: "We have tried to be fair to every part of the country - north and south, rural and urban, metropolitan and shire."

Yet cities will see 4.2 per cent slashed from budgets while Tory-supporting shires face a 2.1 per cent cut. London will see funding cut by 4.5 per cent.

Shadow government secretary Hilary Benn said: "The most deprived areas have seen the largest reduction.

"This government has shown time and time again, from the bedroom tax, to the top rate of tax, to local government funding, it takes most from those who have least.

"It's unfair and it is unjust."

MP after MP stood up in the Commons to report the disastrous impact of cuts already made to city funding, with Liverpool alone seeing a 62 per cent cut in its government grant in the past three years.

Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram challenged Mr Lewis and his boss Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to visit his city, "have a look at the books and tell us where you believe we can cut any further."

He said the council was struggling even to fulfil its legal duties because of the scale of the funding drop.

And Blyth Valley colleague Ronnie Campbell told Mr Lewis: "In Northumberland we've had to cut £30 million this year, £60m last year, we're sacking workers, cutting social services, education's been cut right down to the bone. There isn't any money left.

"You're living in cloud cuckoo land."

But a bizarrely cheerful Mr Lewis simply parroted the same response to heartfelt pleas from MPs, ordering them to go home and tell their local council to cut more efficiently.

"I hope you'll go back to convince them to do the right thing," he repeatedly smirked.

Unite the union national officer Fiona Farmer accused the government of delivering a "shamelessly political settlement which rewards wealthy Tory councils and punishes the less well off."

She added: "The government will be gambling on the public blaming local councils for service cuts, but it is wrong.

"The public understand where the real blame lies - at the door of the Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles."

GMB national secretary Brian Strutton said a toxic brew of cuts and council tax freezes had left council finances "in a state of near collapse."

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