The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, today took the risky step of accusing the Conservative-controlled Local Government Association of scaremongering after it claimed as many as 140,000 local government jobs would be lost next year.
The figure is an increase on the LGA's previous estimate of 100,000 job losses and follows concern in local government circles at the degree to which the cuts have been "front-loaded" in the first year.
The LGA said the "unexpected severity" of the first year of cuts means councils would have to trim their budgets by an average of 11% in 2011-12.
Some authorities will also have to deal with the "difficult impact" of the loss of the Working Neighbourhoods Fund, which channelled £450m to different parts of the country.
Lady Eaton, chairman of the LGA, said: "Local councils knew the cuts were coming and had planned prudently to reduce spending over the coming years. But the unexpected severity of the cuts that will have to be made next year will put many councils in an unprecedented and difficult position.
"Local government will have to make cuts next year of around £2bn more than we anticipated just a month ago."
Pickles's attack reveals the wider tensions between the government, some Tory councils and the LGA, including the LGA's anger that Pickles has been too willing to see his department's budget cut.
It was reported today that Pickles had been rebuffed in a last-ditch plea for extra cash, after he had promised no council would face cuts of 20% in their total spending next year. There has been concern that deprived areas will be hit hardest, and in the Commons Pickles said he faced a dilemma over the way in which some metropolitan councils were being hit.
Formally, the LGA is a multiparty body, but the largest party in local government, the Conservative party, holds its senior positions, including its chair.
Pickles rounded on the LGA over its projections, saying: "I have seen better figures put together on the back of a fag packet. This is not original research. It is a collection of press releases. The LGA does not know what the level of the cuts are or how they are going to be delivered."
He said the kind of job cuts set out by the LGA could only be true if the councils decided to hit the vulnerable. He claimed if the councils "took out middle management and merged services, then the public should see virtually no difference.
"This is nothing more than scaremongering and frankly there are going to be a lot of council workers that are going to be worried by the LGA when they have done no research."
The LGA announced this week that its outgoing chief executive, John Ransford, is taking a £200,000 cut in his £245,612 salary following criticism by ministers and a series of Tory-controlled council leaders. "Coming from an organisation where its chief executive has had to take a £200,000 cut in salary, I am not terribly impressed," Pickles said.
The union Unite's national officer, Peter Allenson, said: "The coalition's attack on local authorities is unjustified and now its savagery is also becoming clear. In a few short weeks since the spending review, the LGA says that job losses for 2011 have been grossly underestimated.
"Even Eric Pickles is starting to get cold feet as it dawns on him the devastation his government is unleashing, and he's now desperate for extra Treasury cash to ease the pain. Cuts of 40-45% in capital expenditure and cuts of 20-25% in revenue and services will hit ordinary people very hard and kill our communities." The GMB union said its figures showed 50,655 job losses had already been announced by 45 councils in recent weeks.