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The Association of County Councils has today published a home office 'table of shame' showing how government plans ...
The Association of County Councils has today published a home office 'table of shame' showing how government plans for slashing civil defence grant next year will hit authorities.

The ACC says that authorities will lose many thousands of pounds from their emergency budgets if the government cuts the grant by 2% or more in 1997/98. Disaster preparations will suffer as they are forced to curtail training programmes and pare down emergency exercises to cope with the cash reduction. According to the table, all authorities will be affected.

Taking pay and price inflation into account, the 2% cut actually equals a 5% reduction, says the ACC. Even then the home office is claiming deeper cuts may be necessary.

Local authorities now receive about 30% less for civil defence than they did in 1991. Government grant for the service is £14.9m this year, down from £22.4m five years ago.

Mick Warner, the association's fire and emergency planning chair said: 'The home office figures we are releasing today show scant regard for public safety. This table of shame could have serious consequences for people and property. there is no room for more cuts without jeopardising public safety. The government must think again.'

The ACC is angry that the home office is preparing for cuts even while negotiations are taking place on next year's local government finance settlement. It is not due out until late November. The association, which is pressing for a standstill budget for the service, is lobbying vigorously to get the proposal overturned. It has the support of the Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman, Alex Carlile.

Civil defence is also contending with the upheaval caused by local government reorganisation. Establishing unitary authorities in some parts of the country will exacerbate the financial problems, says the ACC. More councils will have to share less money to keep people safe from flooding, chemical spills and other major disasters.

County councils will also lose £35,000 for each new unitary authority in their areas. The new councils will be hit because the government is refusing to pay the transitional costs of setting them up. And the £35,000 they will get from the county will not be enough for emergency planning. This is penalising the service for something beyond its control, says the ACC.

With the privatisation of BR and other utilities, the job of co-ordinating emergency planning is getting more complex and time consuming. This, and the government's constant underfunding is taking a toll on the service, says Mr Warner.

'Morale in the service is very low and we are losing our most able people to other professions. Local government civil defence provides great value for money. It is one of out most efficient and respected services. Yet the government is making it nearly impossible for us to protect the public.

'It is a sad state of affairs when the government puts less money into public protection than Newcastle United paid for one footballer. The government can easily find the money for a standstill budget without inflating the public sector borrowing requirement. There is no excuse for shamefully jeopardising public safety to save money.'

-- The 'table of shame' listing the proposed maximum grant allocation for each authority in 1997/98 is available on request from LGCNet on 0171 833 7324.

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