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CLARKE FACES COUNTER ATTACK OVER SPENDING

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Councils are gathering evidence of the impact of cuts to force the government to halt any further squeeze on spendi...
Councils are gathering evidence of the impact of cuts to force the government to halt any further squeeze on spending, after the Budget left them facing a 'disastrous' £650 million cash cut next year. The shortfall is around the same as the combined spending of two large metropolitan councils.

The local authority associations are surveying every council in the country for evidence of this year's service cuts, to counter what they claim is government complacency over the impact of the continuing spending clampdown.

The survey will be a central part of their bid for funds in the 1995-96 spending round. They want to prove the squeeze on spending next year will have a serious and immediate impact on services, and aim to force the Treasury to concede councils must have a more generous spending increase in 1995-96.

On Tuesday Chancellor Kenneth Clarke announced he was increasing total standard spending in England by 2.3% to £42.664 billion, after adjusting for changes in functions. Welsh and Scottish councils will get similar increases. Capital spending fared worse, with DoE figures given to the English local authority associations on Wednesday revealing it was being cut by £800m to around £6.3bn.

The associations said the TSS figure was more than 1% below the amount councils will spend this year - and predicted that it would lead to job and service cuts across the country. The gaps between standard spending assessments and cap limits are allowing councils to overshoot TSS by around £1.4bn this year. But the tougher capping rules due out this week mean this leeway will be cut back.

The cuts survey will be used to counter DoE claims made during the autumn that there was no evidence of services being harmed. 'Our objective is to nail the canard that services are not being hit', said Martin Pilgrim, finance under secretary at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. Councils would not be exaggerating claims. 'This will not be shroud waving. We'll be showing the DoE real bleeding stumps'.

Last year wild claims from Birmingham City Council and others about massive job cuts backfired when many of the supposed redundancies did not materialise. The association chairmen are to meet before Christmas to plan their strategy for the next spending round, and will meet Environment Secretary John Gummer in the new year.

Mr Gummer said on Tuesday that aggregate external finance would be £34.3bn next year, £1bn more than this year.

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