Eric Pickles tells councils to stop grumbling
Council bosses bemoaning cuts to Whitehall funding have been likened to Monty Python's embittered "four Yorkshire-men" by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles.
Councils now employ a "whole cadre of officers whose job it is to say how bad it is on a particular local authority", the minister told a Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch.
Last year, Mr Pickles said an average 1.7% cut to council "spending power" represented a "bargain", despite unions warning of libraries and day care centres closing.
Plymouth City Council has been among the biggest critics of the cuts, with one councillor claiming Mr Pickles "seems determined to bring a return to Dickensian Britain".
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Councils have indicated that the £80 million of savings that Devon and Cornwall's four upper-tier councils will have to find over two years is an underestimate.
Mr Pickles told journalists that council funding in England – made up principally of council tax and central government grant – was unlike most other countries, and the coalition Government is reforming the system so authorities enjoy the spoils of growing business rates they helped boost.
"The worse you do the more you get," he said of the traditional funding system. "If you show any initiative then we take grant away from you. If you screw up on a big scale we give you more grant. It's the reason the repatriation of business rates is so important.
"We have a whole cadre now of officers whose job it is to say how bad it is on a particular local authority."
Recalling Monty Python's Flying Circus, he told journalists: "Do you remember the 'four Yorkshiremen' sketch?
"If you can imagine that replaced by three chief executives. They would come into my office and say 'my authority is full of deprivation and we need a bigger grant'.
"The next one would say 'deprivation, deprivation, I call it a luxury. My population is murdered in its beds every night'.
"'Beds, beds, I call that a luxury – my population can't afford to live where we are – we just bring them in for visitors'."
As well as allowing councils to keep more business rates, rather than hand cash back to Whitehall, he pointed to local referendums on council tax hikes that meant "sooner or later local authorities are going to have to sit down with their local population and say this is what we want to do and this is how much we want to charge for it".