Hard-up rural councils hit out at Eric Pickles spending cuts
A rural backlash against cuts in local government spending which is predicted to hit shire counties harder than urban areas is set to spread across the Westcountry.
A coalition of more than 120 mostly Conservative rural authorities is calling on Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to perform a U-turn on the decision.
The group is considering bringing a judicial review against the recent spending settlement, which they say is "grossly unfair".
Councils in the Westcountry support the rebellion and have accused the Government of "spinning" the level of budget cuts.
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The coalition, known as Sparse – Sparsity Partnership for Authorities Delivering Rural Services – said services in remote areas would "crucified" by the reductions.
It said bus routes, libraries, leisure centres, toilets and rural broadband were at risk along with care for the elderly and children as well as education support.
Devon County Council says Mr Pickles headline figure of a 1.7% drop in annual funding more than doubles to 3.6% in real terms.
Cornwall Council said it is considering joining the revolt after its financial experts were unable to even work out a final figure from the "loosely-worded" official document.
Council leader Jim Currie said he was "unimpressed" with the settlement, which has left officers forced to employ "guesswork" to draft next year's budget.
"We are fully sympathetic towards Sparse but cannot commit until we know the figures," he added.
"We have had our guys look at (the figures) with an experienced eye but there are so many ifs and buts and maybes that we just don't know what we have got.
"It has got a few people agitated and motivated."
Devon County Council cabinet member for resources John Clatworthy said the authority could "absorb" the extra drop, but only because of a raft of stringent cuts, including losing 500 staff a year as part of a recruitment freeze and axing almost an entire tier of middle management.
However, he revealed that cabinet papers due out next week would show a further cut of £19 million in 2014/15.
He added: "There is a lot of spin in this because Mr Pickles uses the words "spending power, which doesn't give a true indication – it gets harder and harder each year."
Just before Christmas, Mr Pickles announced next year's average grant reduction of 1.7% in "spending power" for councils across England as a "a bargain".
However, council leaders and MPs from rural constituencies in the deep-blue Tory heartlands, who will protest in person to the Communities Secretary next week, said the cuts will hit the countryside harder than towns and cities.
Campaigners said councils which were "predominantly rural" would see the amount given to them by central government cut by 3.81% compared to the average 2.05% in urban areas.
For authorities which were "significantly rural" the cut would average 5.21%.
Roger Begy, leader of Conservative-controlled Rutland Council and chairman of Sparse, said: "This is totally unfair and is going to crucify a lot of rural areas. People are going to be isolated."