Clegg vows to protect poorest regions from impact of cuts

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Plans to provide emergency help for parts of the country that will feel the brunt of swingeing public spending cuts are being prepared by the Government, Nick Clegg has disclosed.

In an interview with The Independent, the Deputy Prime Minister promised that regions heavily dependent on public-sector jobs would not be "left high and dry".

He said parts of the North-east, North-west, South Yorkshire and London would be given special help to limit the impact of job losses, with private companies in those areas given incentives to expand.

Mr Clegg stressed the Government headed by David Cameron was fully behind the initiative. But his comments will also be seen as sending a reassuring signal to Liberal Democrats that they are not being used by the Tories to provide political cover for heavy cuts.

The Liberal Democrat leader also pledged that over the next five years the coalition would succeed where Labour had failed by tackling poverty and boosting the prospects of children from poorer families.

A ComRes poll for The Independent today underlines the dangers facing the Liberal Democrats in the establishment of the coalition.

Although a narrow majority of voters believe that Britain is better off as a result of the power-sharing agreement, almost two-thirds say it now is "difficult to know what the Liberal Democrats stand for".

In a wide-ranging interview, the Deputy Prime Minister said:

*There would be "real progress" in this month's Budget towards raising the income tax threshold to £10,000.

*The coalition had not been harmed by David Laws's dramatic departure from the Cabinet – and claimed it could have been strengthened by the speed with which it recovered from his resignation.

*He would appear before MPs every few weeks in a Deputy Prime Minister's Question Time session.

Mr Clegg warned that the coalition faced some "very, very difficult decisions" in deciding where to make cuts in the public sector to fill the "fiscal black hole".

But in an apparent reference to the woes of industrial regions of the North and Midlands during the Thatcher years, he said special initiatives were being rapidly prepared to cushion the areas that would otherwise be "left high and dry".

He suggested they could include job creation schemes, but indicated the emphasis would be on encouraging the expansion of private companies in the hope they will take on redundant state-sector workers.

Mr Clegg said: "I am as aware as anyone else of the dangers of the disproportionate impact on those areas of the country which are very dependent on public-sector employment. What you will see over the next few weeks and months is a series of measures that we are taking to ensure that, as the black hole is addressed, it's done in a way which is sensitive – much more sensitive that in previous recessions – to the particular need of those parts of the country that are very dependent on the public purse."

The Deputy Prime Minister reassured Liberal Democrat supporters that the party's priorities of tax reform, educational reform, political reform and a "new approach to the economy" were "right at the centre of this coalition agreement". He added: "People have already tended to overlook the remarkable momentum that this coalition Government has established towards a lot of values that brought me and many Liberal Democrats into politics."

He hinted that George Osborne, the Chancellor, would significantly lift the threshold of personal income tax in the Budget on 22 June. A commitment to free anyone earning less than £10,000 a year from tax was a key pledge in the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

Such a move – as well as the establishment of a "pupil premium" channelling money to the poorest areas and overhauling welfare reform – should begin to tackle the inequality gap, Mr Clegg said. He claimed the coalition would actually achieve the boost to social mobility that Labour had promised – and failed – to deliver.

"This is a really, really exciting programme of releasing social potential and social opportunity in Britain which actually should be very, very attractive to many people who used to invest all their hope in New Labour."

He said: "The history books will judge this government not by whether we've filled the black hole in the public finances. But whether we leave this country more socially mobile, with greater social opportunity than when we found it, that's the acid test."

David Laws: 'I've paid a high price, but it's time to return to work'

The former Cabinet minister David Laws yesterday suggested he was not planning to leave politics following his resignation from the Government.

The Liberal Democrat stood down as Chief Secretary to the Treasury after he admitted using public money to pay rent to his partner. He said he would see whether he still had the "confidence" of his constituents in Yeovil, Somerset.

In a statement, he said: "I have paid a high price for trying to keep my sexuality a secret. Losing your privacy, your Cabinet job and your perceived integrity within 48 hours isn't very easy. But I accept that I should have been more open and should have set a better example as a public figure.

"I will now need to take a few days to recover from the events of the last week and I then intend to get back to my work as an MP. There are many people with far greater problems than I have and they are entitled to expect me to get on with the job which I am paid to do."

He added: "I love my job as local MP, and it is the greatest job and responsibility which I will ever have. Over the weeks ahead, I will want to understand whether I still have the confidence of my constituents, without which it would be difficult to continue my work."

The Daily Telegraph revealed that between 2004 and 2007, Mr Laws, pictured, claimed up to £950 a month to rent a room in a flat in Kennington, south London, from the lobbyist James Lundie.

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