Devon County Council’s leader has pleaded for more money from his own party’s government and warned it against further cuts to “badly strapped” local authorities. Conservative councillor John Hart, who has been in charge at county hall since 2009, discussed the recent mini-budget and his hopes for the upcoming autumn statement at a full council meeting on Thursday [6 October]. It comes as the council battles to balance the books, with high inflation and increasing demand for children’s and adult services pushing up costs. Despite Devon already finding millions of pounds of savings and extra income through a ‘financial sustainability programme,’ its budget overspend could be as much as £27 million this financial year, according to an update last month. “We in local government are being so badly strapped at the present moment that we’re struggling to survive, let alone expand our services,” Cllr Hart said last week. “When I heard a minister saying in the last few days that ‘local government has got to take some more pain because it still has fat on it,’ my comment was, ‘I’ve got bone left and we’ve already been chipping into some of that over the last year or two.’ “We need more money in local government,” Cllr Hart declared. “And it’s not just me saying this on behalf of Devon, it’s nationally. Every local authority has already been going public on the fact that we could do with better support from government in an autumn statement – promises of cash. “Frankly, the impression I got is there will not be any.” Cllr Hart also thought a reported £18 billion of public sector cuts being drawn up by the government, which he said was talked about during a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference, “suggested it was going to come out of NHS and schools.” “Well frankly, there’s no spare in my view in schools at the present moment but … I do have a personal feeling that the back offices of the NHS are rather heavily staffed, and there’s not enough money going to the front office.” Councillors were reminded that, unlike central government, local councils have a legal obligation to balance their budgets at the end of every financial year. Cllr Hart warned: “We’ve already picked the low branches, the medium branches. We’re now taking the top branches to try and keep local government going. “I hope government gets that message and it’s being talked not just by me, but all local councils – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat.” A government spokesperson said in response: “We have made available an additional £3.7 billion to councils this year, including an extra £40 million for Devon County Council. “We are also providing a discount on energy prices this winter for councils whose bills have been significantly inflated by the global energy crisis and stand ready to speak to any that have concerns about balancing their budgets.”