Councils were today told it was time to raid their multi-million pound piggy banks to head off cutbacks.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles released records showing how much money town halls have set aside in their reserve accounts with Sussex councils holding on to more than £387 million between them.

All local authorities are required to have an emergency pot of savings to cover unexpected costs such as "necessary restructuring" but the cabinet minister insists the current economic climate means they must use some of the stashed cash to plug funding shortfalls.

Although there is no hard and fast rule Whitehall officials said local authorities would be expected to have reasonable reserves - around 2-5% - to get accounts signed off.

East Sussex County Council's vault holds £130.4 million - the fourth highest cash figure nationally, equivalent to 18.1% of its revenue budget.

Crawley Borough Council topped the league when it came to councils with the highest percentage reserves held compared to their budget at 202% while Chichester came in at eighth on 121.4%.

A spokesman for Crawley Borough Council said measures had already been agreed to use council reserves in the next financial year.

He said "As Crawley is a new town the council inherited many assets including a large number of council houses and land. Over the years assets have been sold which has generated income.

"Much of the council’s reserves can only be spent on capital projects by law and as a result the council has an extensive capital programme, spending £43m in 2010/11 and 2011/12 and £5m each year for the following three years. This will fund decent homes work, neighbourhood regeneration, flood alleviation and many other capital schemes. The interest we earn on our reserves funds some of our day-to-day services."

A spokeswoman for Chichester District Council said: “All of our reserves, except £10 million, are committed to capital projects, which have been approved and are underway.

“We recognise the difficulties ahead and so it is prudent to maintain a certain level of reserves to assist the council through these times. To use all of our reserves would be irresponsible and could have severe implications on our taxpayers.”

For a full break down see today's Argus.