Leeds and Wakefield: Pickles lays in to council chiefs

Council leaders in Leeds and Wakefield have been "negligent" and "stupid" if they have failed to prepare for their government grants to be slashed by a fifth, according to a cabinet minister.

Local government minister Eric Pickles and his housing minister Grant Shapps yesterday threw down the gauntlet to West Yorkshire's councils, saying there is no reason for them to make cuts to front line services.

This is despite the toughest council funding settlement since the Second World War, which will see the grant to Leeds council drop by 18.4 per cent over two years and the grants to Wakefield drop by 17.7 per cent.

Mr Shapps said he wants to see neighbouring councils merge their HR, planning, legal services departments and share their senior officers.

"No, they should not be cutting the front line. There is no need to do it. Unless they have taken all that (action] why would they be cutting meals on wheels?", he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Pickles said middle management should be the target for the axe, saying he was "seriously impressed" by Liverpool for reducing its senior management team from 73 to 48.

They both voiced their disappointment that councils have not gone far enough to restructure and cut their own costs.

Speaking to the Commons Local Government Select Committee, he said: "I think you would have to be beyond the point of negligence to the point of stupid as a local government leader, be it elected or an official, if you were not really expecting cuts of this magnitude."

He defended imposing the biggest cuts on councils over two years, saying that spreading the pain over a longer period of time would be "the road to nowhere."

Both ministers also defended discrepancies which see northern urban councils hit harder by the cuts than those in affluent leafy areas of the south.

The YEP has revealed how Leeds City Council faces cuts 16 times bigger than local authorities in some of the most wealthy areas of the south.

Mr Pickles pointed out that councils in more prosperous areas have a lower level of government grant compared to the amount they raise from

council tax.

He said it was not possible to make deeper cuts to these councils "because they don't receive enough grant."

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