GOVERNMENT claims that town halls can make huge savings by merging departments appear to have been questioned by a Tory minister.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles challenged councils to cut senior officials’ pay and share back office functions with other authorities rather than cutting frontline services in the wake of Government-ordered spending cuts.
But Local Government Minister Baroness Hanham appeared to put his claims into doubt during exchanges with Jeremy Beecham, a former leader of Newcastle City Council, in the Lords.
She said: “Huge sums may not be saved initially, but there is no doubt that useful savings are to be made through councils sharing such services.” The baroness then appeared to correct herself, saying the savings would not be “insignificant”, though she admitted councils had been handed a “very tough” settlement.
She added: “We understand, too, that different parts of the country will fare slightly less well than others. The North East comes into that category, as the figures show.”
In the Commons, Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell challenged Mr Pickles over the cuts to Northumberland County Council, saying that its chief executive “tells me that he must save £100m in the next two or three years” and adding the council was “in a right pickle.”
Mr Pickles replied: “As he is so cosy with his chief executive, he should ask him to take a pay cut to reduce central funding and the central office, to start sharing with other authorities, and instead of cutting the front line, to start cutting the feather-bedding.”