John Denham Refuses To Put Figure On Council Spending Cuts

(Telegraph) – JOHN DENHAM, the Communities Secretary, has admitted “things are going to be tighter” for councils in England and Wales but has refused to put a figure on how much they will have to cut their budgets by.

In a bad tempered exchange on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Denham refused to quantify the amount councils may have to cut spending by, despite being asked seven times.

A survey of local councils conducted by the BBC found that many feared their budgets would have to slashed by between 10 per cent and 15 per cent after 2011, which could lead to as many as 25,000 job cuts.

Many councils are also warning that the spending reductions will inevitably lead to cuts in front line services.

But Mr Denham said cuts in front line services would not be necessary if councils made efficiency savings elsewhere.

Asked what his recommendation was for the sort of cuts councils should have in mind for the three years from 2011, Mr Denham refused to speculate.

He said: “The first thing they should be doing is not taking bad decisions now … we have maintained the promised funding to local government at an increase of 4 per cent this year so many of the cuts in front line services you are reading about in local papers are local political decisions usually taken by Conservative councils.”

Pressed again to put a figure on the level of spending cuts councils should expect he again refused to name a figure.

He said: “After 2011 the spending totals have not yet been set as you know because there are uncertainties. What will determine the absolute levels of spending will be what happens to growth, what happens to unemployment, the income from taxation and those are decisions that Alistair Darling will take … in due course.

“What I would say to local authorities is that people who are rushing now to say we will cut our front lines services shouldn’t be doing that when we all know there are efficiencies to be made behind the scenes … there are still large areas of duplication and inefficiency that can be dealt with and the real challenge here is that people should be saying to their councils who say your front line services are going is why unless you can tell us that you have done all of these efficiencies and have dealt with them within the system.”

“I am not going to put a figure on it because that will be determined by the next spending decisions.”