Nick Clegg seeks to calm fears over spending cuts

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Nick Clegg sought to calm public fears over deep spending cuts today but admitted the coalition was likely to suffer a bitter backlash.

The Deputy Prime Minister appeared to soften the Government's rhetoric by stressing that departmental reductions of up to 25% would be staggered over four years.

Although people were understandably anxious, they should not feel there was a "sword of Damocles" that would fall overnight, he added.

Mr Clegg issued his plea against panic with just six weeks to go until the results of an unprecedentedly tough Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) are revealed.

His comments came as research for the BBC suggested the north of England and the Midlands would be hardest hit by cuts.

The study by Experian predicted Middlesbrough would be the worst affected town, followed by Mansfield, in Nottinghamshire, and Stoke-on Trent.

Mr Clegg conceded there was still a danger that sharp reductions in expenditure would hamper the bounce-back from recession, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme people should be braced for a "choppy and uneven" recovery.

However, he stressed cuts would begin next April and be spread over four years, meaning they would average around 6% annually. Labour had proposed reducing spending at four-fifths that rate, he added.

"While I totally understand people's anxiety, I don't think we should aggravate that anxiety by pretending there is a sword of Damocles coming down straight away," the DPM added.

Asked about the research on the Today programme, Mr Clegg insisted the economy had to be "rebalanced" in areas that were over-reliant on the public sector.

That meant boosting private sector jobs to replace public sector jobs, through measures such as the Government's £1 billion regional growth fund and national insurance breaks for firms in certain regions, he said.

"Of course this recovery, which is starting, is likely to be choppy and uneven," the DPM said.

"Of course we appreciate we are dealing with a long-term problem about how we rebalance the economy. That won't be something we can do overnight."

Delivering a speech at the Institute for Government in London, Mr Clegg conceded that the coalition was running "significant political risks" by cutting so sharply, but had to rise above day-to-day bad headlines in order to secure the long-term future of the country.

"We know that decisions taken for the long-term are, in the short-run, difficult, painful or unpopular - or all three," he said.

"The need to tackle our inheritance of debt is the most obvious case in point.

"I am under no illusions about the significant political risks both parties in the coalition are now taking by facing up to these difficult decisions in government.

"But I also think people will see, even through these tough times, that the coalition Government is acting in the interests of a better future."

Mr Clegg criticised the previous Labour government for succumbing to "short-termism" and chasing headlines, saying he expected much of the coalition's best work to go unheralded.

"Successful reform is rarely a generator of daily headlines, and it is vital to understand that from the outset," he added.

The DPM also said his and David Cameron's generation had "failed", running up huge debts despoiling the planet and allowing key institutions to wither.

"For us, the longer-term view we are adopting in government will help to wipe the slate clean, and ensure that future generations can thrive, without being burdened with the dead weight of our debt, and our failings," he said.

Mr Clegg said part of the "horizon shift" would be keeping the ministerial team more stable. Under Labour, ministers stayed for an average of only 1.3 years in each post, barely giving them time to get to grips with their subjects, according to the DPM.

* Details of the BBC survey can be found at