Further delays to the local government settlement caused by a cross-Whitehall row over police funding are threatening to force councils into “quick and brutal” cuts.
LGC understands the settlement - originally expected in November, then delayed until this week - has now been pencilled in for 13 December.
However, this could slip again after a row between home secretary Theresa May and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander over police funding, which is determined within the overall settlement.
Council treasurers warned that any further delay would place real financial risk on councils, who were being forced to prepare budgets on theoretical figures.
Alison Scott, assistant director for local government at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy, said some councils were planning cuts of up to 50% to key services to cope with the front-loading, which some have estimated to be as high as 20-25% next year.
Society of County Treasurers president Roger Kershaw said councils now had little time for “well-thought-through savings or efficiencies or the kind of radical action necessary to deliver the worst-case scenario … What we’re going to see is quick and brutal cuts.”
But communities secretary Eric Pickles told MPs that the front-loading of the cuts was “sensible”. “The only way which local government can approach a 26% reduction is not to salami-slice here and there, but to restructure…
“If it is going to do that, it had best get on with it,” he said in a parliamentary debate.
Policing was allocated a 20% cut over the four years in the spending review. Police, like local government, face the biggest cuts in the first two years.
Sources close to Mr Alexander, right, told LGC he had been pushing for those police authorities heavily dependent on central government grant to be protected in a similar way to the “four-banded” settlement being proposed for councils.
This would set a lower grant floor for those least dependent (2 December, LGCplus.com/5022590.article).
Ms May, left, is understood to prefer a “flat” settlement without “damping”.
However, this would hit police authorities in the poorest areas, particularly in the north of England, the hardest, potentially undermining the commitment made by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg - who chairs the cabinet committee that will sign off the settlement - to “fairness” in the coalition’s cuts.
The Home Office refused to comment ahead of the announcement of the settlement.