Lib Dem council chiefs condemn cuts

Daniel Bentley,Pa
Thursday 10 February 2011 12:00 GMT

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is facing resistance from Liberal Democrat council chiefs over the pace and scale of the coalition Government's spending cuts.

An open letter signed by 88 local Lib Dem heads, including 17 town hall leaders, warned that the cuts would damage the economy and hit the most vulnerable.

They accused Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles of "letting down" users of council services and refusing to work with councillors.

"These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all frontline council services, including care services to the vulnerable," they said in the letter, published in The Times.

"Rather than assist the country's recovery by making savings to the public in a way that can protect local economies and the front line, the cuts are structured in such a way that they will do the opposite."

In the letter, which lays bare the depth of frustration felt by a highly influential section of the Lib Dems, the signatories claimed that local government was playing its part in tackling the country's deficit and advancing the Coalition's aim of the Big Society.

They accused Mr Pickles of being "unwilling to lead the change that's so desperately needed".

They continued: "Local government has made efficiency savings of 3% in each of the past eight years - in stark contrast to the runaway spending of central government under the previous administration.

"We've also been planning for further saving since the true state of the economy became apparent six months ago. What has been delivered is a difficult cuts package across all government departments but clearly the most severe is to local government."

It was also claimed that harsh cuts to the local government settlement in the coming financial year means councils do not have enough time to re-engineer services on a lower-cost base or ease staff cuts without forces redundancies.

"The Secretary of State's role should be to facilitate necessary savings while promoting the advance of localism and the Big Society. Unfortunately, Eric Pickles has felt it better to shake a stick at councillors than work with us," added the officials.

The council leaders called for direct discussions with Mr Pickles, rather than "continue with the gunboat diplomacy" they were being forced to take.

Lib Dem Communities Minister Andrew Stunell called on the party not to fall out over "pointless debate".

He said the "woeful" deficit inherited from Labour meant "very tough times" for all public services.

"Whilst I fully understand the real challenges councils face I think it will be much better to direct all our energy to solving these problems rather than falling out between ourselves," he said.

"I know just how keen every one of my DCLG ministerial colleagues is to end Whitehall domination of local government and we are strongly committed to delivering that quickly.

"It would be a real lost opportunity if we let that slip while we engage in pointless debate. Let's get round the table and just sort this out."

The letter comes as divisions in the party were also under the spotlight over the Government's handling of the banks, after Lord Oakeshott quit as the Lib Dems' Treasury spokesman in the Lords.

The leader of the Liberal Democrat group at the Local Government Association, Richard Kemp, said the councillors were not seeking to split the party, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I certainly have no intention of leaving the party."

Councils believe they could absorb a 7% cut in central government grant, but would struggle with the 12% reduction planned for the coming year.

"Because it is front-loaded, we are being forced to make cuts that I think all of us - including the Government - would regret," said Mr Kemp.

"We are not deficit deniers, we know this Government is in an incredibly difficult position and we want to enter into partnership with Government. But we can only do that if the Government does acknowledge the scale of the problems we face.

"David Cameron and Nick Clegg did that last week, but we continually get trashed by the Secretary of State for Local Government, who says this is an easy option."

Mr Kemp is due to meet Mr Clegg later today to discuss his concerns.

Shadow local government secretary Caroline Flint said the Lib Dem councillors were still "complicit" in the Government's cuts.

"This letter is too little, too late and comes the day after Liberal Democrat MPs joined their Tory colleagues in voting for a deeply unfair local government settlement," she said.

"They could have voiced their opposition before yesterday's crucial vote but chose to remain silent. As a result, Surestart centres, libraries, bin collections and many other local services are under threat of cutbacks or closure."

The full list of signatories of the Liberal Democrat councillors' letter to The Times is:

Richard Kemp, Leader, Liberal Democrat Group, Local Government Association;

Council leaders: Carl Minns, Hull; Cec Tallack, Milton Keynes; Paul Tilsley (deputy leader), Birmingham; David Faulkner, Newcastle; Ian Marks, Warrington; Virginia Gay, North Norfolk; Andrew De Freitas, North East Lincolnshire; Tim Carroll, South Somerset; Stuart Langhorn, Lancaster; David Watts, Broxtowe; Tony de Vere, Vale of White Horse; Keith House, Eastleigh; Anne Turrell, Colchester; Sian Reid, Cambridge City; Alan Connett, Teignbridge; David Budd, Purbeck; Ann De Vecchi, Lewes; Dorothy Thornhill (mayor). Watford; Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth.

Liberal Democrat Group Leaders

Alan Boad, Warwick; Gavin James, Basingstoke & Deane; Tom Smith-Hughes, Essex; Joe Abbott, South Tyneside; Roger Hayes, Bolton; Peter Wilcock, Uttlesford; Simon McDougall, Arun; Brendan Haigh, Newark & Sherwood; Nigel Martin, Durham; Hilary Jones, Derby; Linda Redhead, Halton; Sue Carpendale, Babergh; Iain Sharpe, Watford; Kathy Pollard, Suffolk; Maureen Rigg, Stockton; John Boyce, Oadby & Wigston; Andrew Smith, Chicester; Phil Taylor, Tewkesbury; Len Gates, Test Valley; Ruth Davis, South Gloucestershire; Tony Gillam, Gedling; Chris Maines, Lewisham; David Milsted, North Dorset; Roger Price, Fareham; Brian Greenslade, Devon; Ian Stewart, Cumbria; Richard Andrews, West Oxfordshire; Margaret Rowley, Wychavon; Ann Buckley, Havant; Jane Parlour, Richmondshire; Alan Sherwell, Aylesbury Vale; Graham Longley, Southend; Zoe Patrick, Oxfordshire; Brian Jeffries, East Riding of Yorkshire; Bob Sullivan, Waltham Forest; David Lomax, High Peak; Paul Coddington, Doncaster; Liz Tucker, Worcestershire; Simon Ashley, Manchester; Roger Walshe, Sevenoaks; John Fisher, Staffs Moorlands; Paul Morse, Norfolk; Jane Clark, Wealden; Christina Jebb, Staffordshire; David Walker, Charnwood; Noel Rippeth, Gateshead; Penny Otton, Mid Suffolk; Nan Farmer, Carlisle; David Foster, Blackburn with Darwen; Dr Robin Studd, Newcastle under Lyme; Peter Chegwyn, Gosport; Richard Sharp, Woking; Mary Baldwin, Bucks; Jerry Roodhouse, Warwickshire; David Neighbour, Hart; Arthur Preece, Hartlepool; Nigel Hartin, Shropshire; David Neve, Tunbridge Wells; Geoff Welsh, Blaby; Roger Kutchinsky, Hertsmere; Ross Henley, Taunton Deane; Jack Cohen, Barnet; Julie Morris, Epsom & Ewell; Terry Stacy, Islington; Alex Perkins, Canterbury City; Geoff Chamberlain, East Devon; David Fearn, Derbyshire Dales; Helen Dyke, Wyre Forest; Paul English, Craven; Paul Elgood, Brighton & Hove; Paul Hodgkinson, Cotswold.

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