‘You’ll manage’, Pickles tells councils

By Jo-Anna K. Burnett

Councillors are mulling over Eric Pickles' ultimatum that they should either cope with more spending cuts or offer a referendum to voters.

The local government secretary was met with head shakes and frowns as councillors at the Local Goverment Association's conference in Manchester confronted the man who has frozen council tax for another five years.

Pickles was confronted about the freeze and the latest spending cuts local authorities are now facing by Jahangir Akhtar, a Labour councillor.

He said his home town of Rotherham has seen cuts of about £70 million since the coalition came to power – and is facing an additional £19 million in cuts next year.

But with another ten per cent cut announced in the recent spending review, his city will face an additional £3.2 million deficit for 2015/16, according to Akhtar.

"How do you think that counsellors like myself, like our council is going to manage with this continuous draconian cut that you are imposing?" he said.

Pickles admitted the ten per cent cut to local government was not settled until the Monday before the spending review announcement – despite his department being among those named as having settled with the Treasury one month beforehand.

"The only way in which I would have stood for a figure for about ten per cent was on the condition of £3.8 billion of national health money and the £200 million for troubled families," he said.

"It doesn't take a genius to work out where the money needs to go. It needs to go in social care.

"I'm sure that you'll manage, as you managed last time," he said. "If you don't think you can manage then put up the council tax [for a vote].

Councils are supposed to put any council tax rise exceeding two per cent to a referenda among local voters, under reforms introduced by Pickles.

South Lakeland councillor Stan Collins asked if a council tax vote could be tacked on to the elections and referendum this fall.

"I don't know what it is about politicians – and that's including the south. We never seem to want to talk to the public. We never seem to want to make a case," Pickles complained.