Councils face where the deep budget cuts must fall

By Dhruti Shah
BBC News

image captionThe command to cut costs locally has come from central government

It is finally time for the reckoning. With less than a week before the emergency budget, councils across the UK are deciding where the axe will fall.

England's councils must save £1.1bn as the government tries to cut the UK's deficit by £5.7bn this financial year.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been asked to find savings totalling £704m.

Many councils are waiting for the emergency Budget on 22 June before they will reveal their plans, but the coalition government says its first priority is reducing the UK's £156bn debt.

With under a week to go, BBC reporters spoke to authorities around the UK to find out the latest developments on the cuts in their local areas.

And although no areas appeared to be safe, social care and transport services look set to be among the biggest victims of the public sector crackdown on spending.

The local authorities however have some leeway about where to make savings after the government lifted the restrictions around some "ring-fenced" grants.

Some authorities have looked at selling their assets, while others are cutting back on their environmental commitments.

Somerset County Council is even considering selling the county hall in Taunton where it is based, as part of its attempts to liquidate its assets.

Councillor Ken Maddock said 62 council-owned farms could also be sold.

He told the BBC that without urgent action the council's debts would rise from £357m to £413m by the end of the financial year."

"Out of 520,000 people that live in this county every single person will feel the effect... they'll lose something," he said.

A number of social care projects across the country are also under threat.

Nottinghamshire County Council has pushed on with its plans to sell 13 care homes, despite public criticism.

Elsewhere in the country, both Staffordshire and Worcestershire councils admitted that adult services were also earmarked for cuts.

Andrew Burns, the director of finance for Staffordshire County Council said: "We recognise that we cannot continue to provide the same services in the way we do [now]."

In Canterbury, the charity Porchlight - a government "rough sleeping champion" - has had to stop a project helping homeless people find apprenticeships after the funding was pulled.

Chief executive Mike Barret told the BBC he feared more people would become homeless because of the knock-on effects of the cuts.

Transport schemes across the UK are also expected to bear a heavy share of the reductions in spending.

Central government has already announced it plans to suspend programmes which were due to start at a later date.

Rural routes

The councils' responses suggest that nearly £2.5bn worth of projects could be cancelled.

These include the Heysham bypass project linking Heysham to the M6. The government wrote to Lancashire County Council that it could carry on developing the road but it would be at its "own risk."

The Campaign for Better Transport has warned the cuts could result in rises in rail fares, more potholes and fewer buses.

In Surrey the wait is set to continue for at least another eight months for those wanting to replace the arterial Walton Bridge.

The current structure was installed on a temporary basis 11 years ago - it was predicted to last just 10 years.

image captionSomerset County Council is trying to cut its debt by liquidating some assets

Educational services also do not appear to be exempt from the cuts. In BradfordB, a pilot scheme to provide a free lunch to every primary school child has been cancelled.

Meanwhile, several local authorities including Derby and Stoke on Trent are reviewing the refurbishment and rebuilding of schools.

In Collyhurst in Manchester, plans for the the largest Private Finance Initiative (PFI) housing project in the country are now in doubt because of the cuts.

Neither do leisure services escape the cull. The Treasury is studying Blackpool Council's plan to buy the Tower and Winter Gardens tourist attraction, while Derby City Council may have to give up on its attempts to build a velodrome and Olympic-sized swimming pool.

In March, a BBC survey suggested that at least 25,000 council jobs in England would be under threat during the next three to five years.

The survey was based on answers given by 49 councils with a combined workforce of 256,000.

The latest snapshot showed that job losses continued to be high on the agenda, with the Isle of Wight Council estimating cuts of around 220-300 jobs over three years, while Oxfordshire County Council predicted 500 posts will have gone by 2015.

In Scotland, 10 councils said they expected to cut 10,000 jobs between them over the next few years, with Glasgow City Council admitting it could lose 2,800 posts.

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