Council chiefs and teaching unions have hit out after new figures revealed that the North East has slashed its local authority budgets more sharply than anywhere in England.
An analysis by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy found the amount spent on services in this region is forecast to decrease by 5% this year - more than double the amount in some other areas.
But the Government says it believes that residents are “happier than ever” with their council services - and if authorities want more money they should concentrate on collecting more council tax and make more of the empty properties they own.
Much of the North East’s fall is due to a 10% reduction in spending on education, and a 9.3% drop in the budget for “environmental” services such as bin collections.
The figures also show the North East has seen a below average increase in the amount spent on children’s social care.
South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm said: “The findings from Cipfa simply confirms what local authority leaders have been saying since 2010 - that local government is being asked to bear the brunt of the Government’s fiscal strategy for reducing the national deficit and that the North East is hit disproportionally harder than other areas in England.”
“Even with careful budgetary control, efficiency savings and finding new innovative ways to deliver our services, this inevitably means services do suffer.
“The Government claim they are devolving powers to local government and that their localism agenda is about giving local communities real choices in how services are funded - but its a sham.
“The real government agenda is a deliberate ploy to shift the blame for cuts in public services from themselves to local councils.”
Vince Allen, principal officer for the northern region at the National Union of Teachers said Cipfa’s findings were “extremely unwelcome” and that “its clear from the figures that education is going to take a considerable knock.”
“The amount available for community spending in the North East, particularly on education is slumping, in real terms, towards a level equivalent to that in 2005 - that’s how big a step backwards we are taking.
“But in the short term other than campaigning against the cuts that the Government are making I don’t know there is anything we can do to change this around.
“We just have to hope that a Government coming to power would not have the same agenda in terms of destroying local democracy and communities by continuing to centralise the money available for spending.”
Across the country the lowest average fall in spending is forecast in the North West, with budgets just 1.8% down.
Rob Whiteman, Cipfa’s chief executive said that to avoid councils experience serious financial trouble in the near future “we must recognise that some councils have been hit harder than others and will need more support.”
“We are now starting to see some councils face real and immediate financial pressures,” he said.
Steven Mason, lead executive director at Northumberland County Council said he hoped the analysis might encourage the Government to provide councils with more money in the future.
“Northumberland welcome the Cipfa analysis which supports the views put forward by a number of Councils including Northumberland and the Association of North East Councils.
“We hope the Department of Communities and Local Government considers the analysis by such a credible independent body with a view to more equitable future financial settlements across England.”