£20m - Massive cuts threat to council budget

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SUNDERLAND City Council has hit out at Government plans that could see it face almost £20million of funding cuts over the next two years.

Union bosses today joined a chorus of disapproval and warned front-line services have been put at risk by the move.

This week, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told Parliament local authorities would have to cope with an average cut in 2013 of 1.7 per cent, which he described as a “bargain”.

While council officials are yet to finalise next year’s budget, it is thought Sunderland will lose out on £19.57million, representing a 10.3 per cent cut to its formula grant.

County Durham fared no better, with a £29.73million cut to its budget.

Leader of Sunderland City Council, Paul Watson, said: “The city council has begun looking at the implications of the financial settlement.

“What we can say is that it is no surprise to me that having faced three years of cuts so far, that this Government continues to ignore the needs of Sunderland and its communities by further cuts to budgets that pay for vital services.

“The city council will do whatever it can to protect services and support Sunderland people. The Government’s mismanagement of the economy means that we are facing the longest and deepest set of cuts in public services in living memory.”

Council bosses pointed out savings of £100million have already been made during the past three years while front- line jobs have been protected.

However, Peter De-Vere, assistant branch secretary of Unison in Sunderland, argued that it is only a matter of time before such steps will have to be taken.

He said: “Maintaining those front-line services as we have over the last three years is going to get tougher. You can cut and cut until eventually something has to give.

“We’ve told the public what is coming but because it hasn’t happened yet a lot of us are still like ostriches.

“People are hurting out there, and I’m really worried about people on low incomes in Sunderland because they are getting hit left, right and centre.”

Conservative opposition leader Coun Robert Oliver rejected that view and said there was still plenty of room for the council to streamline its spending.

He said: “I think the point to be made is the deficit needs to be paid down and local government has to play a part in that.

“Really, they will have to make sure they’re as efficient as possible. There is a lot councillors can do to lessen the impact and make sure we are getting the best deals possible.”

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