Local authority leaders have insisted that councils are trying to protect frontline services despite making huge spending cuts by targeting areas such as senior management and administration for savings.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said nine out of 10 councils have reduced the cost of senior officers either through cutting jobs or pay, while almost as many have made cuts in middle management.
A survey of 131 authorities in England also revealed that two-thirds are sharing services with other councils and half plan pay freezes to achieve savings.
Three out of five said greater savings are being made in administration, human resources, finance and IT than in other services, although one in five said the biggest cuts will be in services for young people, and eight out of 10 are planning to target libraries for cuts.
Unions accused the LGA of trying to put a positive spin on "disastrous" spending cuts which have already led to threats of 170,000 job losses.
Baroness Margaret Eaton, chairwoman of the LGA, said: "This survey shows just how hard councils are working to protect the services that people care about most. Councils know just how much value their residents place on the services they provide and are doing all they can to make sure they can continue to do so wherever possible.
"Where resources are under pressure, the survey shows that councils are targeting services at those most in need, while at the same time taking steps to reduce the cost of bureaucracy and management."
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said on Friday: "It might be April Fool's Day but nobody is fooled by this survey. The depth and scale of the Government's cuts is disastrous for council services and jobs. Any attempt to put a positive spin on the situation is a bad joke.
"We understand that councils have been put in an extremely difficult position and the blame lies firmly with the Government. But no matter how the LGA tries to present these figures, council services are facing deep and lasting cuts."
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "Tory council cuts, the biggest in living memory, are stripping local services back to their bare bones. It seems hard to imagine but it is even worse than it was under Thatcher, who starved local authorities of funds."