EAST Lancashire and deprived northern Labour councils are being hammered by government cuts in Whitehall grants vital to key services.
That is the conclusion of new, respected analysis of how coalition ministers carve up the central cash pot for local authority budgets across England.
Blackburn with Darwen is sixth hardest hit between 2010 and 2016 with a quarter of its grant slashed despite being the 17th poorest area of England on government statistics. Only Manchester, Liverpool, its next-door neighbour Knowsley, and three inner-London boroughs have been hit harder.
Burnley, Pendle and Hyndburn took hits of 15 per cent plus, despite being in the top 35 of the official deprivation index – all 35 northern and London boroughs.
Furious Labour politicians accuse ministers of shifting cash from their northern urban authorities to affluent southern Conservative areas for political gain.
Blackburn with Darwen leader Kate Hollern said: “I am absolutely furious. It is disgraceful. We are now looking at cutting key services our residents need.”
Burnley leader Julie Cooper said: “It is just so unfair. We are no longer cutting fat but the muscle and bone of services people depend on.”
Blackburn Labour MP Jack Straw vowed to raise the issue in Parliament, saying: “These figures are shocking, showing the perverted priorities of Conservatives putting party politics above needs.”
Cabinet ministers and Tory MPs deny unfairly hitting the north, claiming Labour ‘threw money’ at its heartlands to no effect. They justify the shift by saying despite the cuts, southern councils get less government cash per head than northern ones given huge sums during Labour’s 13 years in power.
Labour claim the consequences are lost town hall jobs, axed crucial services, and vulnerable people left without support.
Blackburn with Darwen borough and Lancashire county get half their £140million and £750million budgets from Whitehall-controlled grants and business rates. With council tax capped every penny cut hits services directly.
Smaller authorities like Burnley (with a £15.7million budget), dependent on the county for many services, get two-thirds from London.
The respected analysis of the government’s preferred ‘spending power’ figures, produced by veteran Newcastle City treasurer Paul Woods, shows a stark contrast between East Lancashire and the three most prosperous council areas – Conservative Surrey Heath, Wokingham and Hart.
Hart (bottom of the index at 326) saw a 1.5 per cent cut, Wokingham (325) a 1.1 per cent increase and Surrey Heath (324) a 0.9 per cent rise.
Blackburn foodbank manager Ros Duerden said reductions in council services combined with benefit cuts meant the numbers needing help to eat was rising steadily.
Foodbank user George Henry said: “It’s not fair. The government is hurting people in the north.”
Burnley Liberal Democrat MP Gordon Birtwistle admitted northern councils were ‘suffering’ .
Pendle Tory Andrew Stephenson and Blackburn with Darwen Tory group leader Mike Lee said Labour ‘throwing money’ at councils had not solved East Lancashire’s problems.
Lancashire County Council finance boss David Borrow said: “It’s unfair. It’s about politics. The services we are looking at cutting are vital.
“We legally have to provide for vulnerable children and adults. With the levels of grant cuts, that becomes increasingly difficult.”
Dean of Blackburn Christopher Armstrong has told Chancellor George Osborne: “I dread to imagine the consequences of any further cuts here.”
Mr Osborne’s deputy Danny Alexander said, on a recent visit to Brierfield Mills: “We are having to tackle the deficit left by the last Labour government. Everybody, including councils, has to share in that effort. We see councils like Pendle taking a new attitude, as this partnership with the private sector shows.”
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan-Smith, visiting Rawtenstall, said: “We are changing the benefit and tax system to help people into work and make work pay. The new universal credit and raising the threshold where people pay income tax to £10,000 will make a huge difference.”
Local government minister Brandon Lewis said: “The coalition government has delivered a fair settlement to every part of the country – north and south, rural and urban, metropolitan and shire.
“Councils facing the highest demand for services continue to receive substantially more funding.”
Leading academic Tony Travers said: “These figures are generally accepted as sound. They tend to confirm the view that under Labour governments Whitehall cash moves to northern urban authorities from the south and under the Conservatives, vice-versa.”