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