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[January 22, 2014]
Councils 'risk collapse' in face of cuts [Western Daily Press (UK)]
(Western Daily Press (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Some councils in the South West risk collapse following cuts to government services, a leading auditor has warned.
A financial "health check" carried out by Grant Thornton accountants has found the region's authorities are the most "at risk" in England. As it warned councils face a "tip-ping point" from 2016 - which could mean failing to deliver basic services including rubbish collection - MPs from the West threatened to rebel against the Government.
Grant Thornton's analysis appears to chime with concern among MPs backing the Rural Fair Share campaign, which argues urban councils receive 50 per cent more funding per head than rural authorities. One of those, Devon Tory MP Neil Parish, said he wanted "my troops to be ready and rebel if we need to" if ministers ignored their pleas.
Grant Thornton, which did not name councils, found the South West had the lowest rating for both financial performance and financial control, and the second lowest ranking for both strategic financial planning and financial gover nance.
John Golding, head of public sector assurance at Grant Thornton in the South West, said: "As funding reductions start to bite harder and deeper after 2015, councils will be faced with a great challenge.
"More tough decisions will be needed on whether optional services can still be provided and how more income can be raised. Even after all of this, the public will need to understand that service quantity will need to be reduced." In December, Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis announced an average 2.9 per cent cut in the "spending power" for local authorities from April 2014, and the same again for the following year.
Sparse area councils will receive a share of a Pounds 9.5 million grant in recognition of underfunding and incurring extra transport costs. The Rural Fair Share campaign feels this is not enough to save some councils from peril.
On BBC's Sunday Politics South West, Mr Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, indicated he was willing to vote against the financial settlement - a dramatic step for an MP from a governing party.
Mr Parish said they are "getting somewhere" with ministers, but "whether we will have enough, I don't know".
He added: "That's why I want my troops to be ready and rebel if we need to. The Government needs to take it seriously. That we mean business in the West Country." Councillor Philip Collins, independent leader of Torridge Council in North Devon, said: "We are a very poor area, we don't get the same funding of some urban areas." OPINION PAGE 12 (c) 2014 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.
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