Councils, not the Government, are to blame for massive cuts in local services, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles tells political editor Jonathan Walker
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has launched a blistering attack on Birmingham City Council, accusing bosses of “screaming incompetence”.
Mr Pickles described Birmingham as the “biggest problem” in the whole country and said the city council has only itself to blame for spending cuts that could see services slashed and hundreds of jobs lost.
He condemned comments by council leader Sir Albert Bore that the city had been unfairly targeted for cuts as “absolutely ludicrous”.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post, Mr Pickles said councils should stop making cuts and start working more efficiently and raising their own funds.
Councils have "chosen to use the poor as a battering ram".Eric Pickles
Instead, they were choosing to “use the poor as a battering ram” by cutting services used by the least wealthy, he said.
The outspoken cabinet minister also condemned plans to make low-income families pay a share of council tax as “obscene” – and said he might block councils from imposing charges.
He accused Birmingham of “screaming incompetence” due to its failure to tackle the issue of equal pay, which has left it with a bill for £757 million in compensation for female former staff.
But Mr Pickles also dropped heavy hints that he was planning to make extra cash available to Birmingham to help it cope with the massive compensation payout.
He was speaking as Birmingham City Council continued a public consultation about spending cuts which it insists have been forced on it by the Government.
The authority says it will be forced to make savings of more than £600 million by 2016-17 and up to 1,100 jobs could go.
Sir Albert dramatically warned earlier this year that the scale of the cuts marked the “end of local government as we know it”.
And he also claimed earlier this month that the scale of the cuts was a result of the Government unfairly cutting Birmingham’s funding by more than other local authorities.
The council leader said: “If Birmingham’s grant had been cut by the same amount as the national average then it would have received an extra £80 million each year. Many cities in this country need a fair share and I intend to take this back to government.”
Asked for his response to that remark, Mr Pickles said: “I think it’s absolutely ludicrous.
“There is a reason why larger sums are coming out of some of the cities – and this is really important – because we are paying more to the cities. We are paying more to the cities by an enormous tune.
“If we were to take the same amount of money out of the budgets of other parts of the country, we’d actually have to send them a bill.
“In many ways, some of the cuts we’re expecting from Birmingham are bigger than the total grant we pay to many other authorities.”
To give one example of the point Mr Pickles is making, Birmingham in 2012-13 received a revenue support grant of £646 million. Divided between the city’s 1,050,654 residents, that comes to £615 per person.
By contrast, the unitary authority of Windsor and Maidenhead, serving a wealthier population, received £19.49 million shared between 147,004 residents – or £133 per person.
However, wealthier councils typically raise more funding from council taxes, and face less demand for their services.
Birmingham also faces financial ruin after the District Auditor ruled that it must find £757 million to compensate former female members of staff who were not paid at the same rate as men carrying out similar work.
The Government has already lent it £429 million, but Sir Albert has warned it could go bankrupt unless it receives more help.
Mr Pickles dropped a strong hint that he was preparing to make more money available, but also condemned the city council for failing to deal with the issue.
He said: “Birmingham is in a unique position because of the screaming incompetence of not dealing with equal pay.”
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