Nick Clegg has been urged by the leader of the Liberal Democrats’ local councillors to “rein in” two senior Tory ministers who he accused of being “a disgrace” for denying spending cuts would lead to town hall job losses and service reductions.
Richard Kemp, whose own authority of Liverpool faces an 8.9% drop in spending power next year, said Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Housing Minister Grant Shapps were acting “like Laurel and Hardy”.
In an email to the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader, he said the pair were issuing a near-daily “gimmick” in a bid to suggest the massive drop in funding could be bridged alone by pay cuts, efficiency savings and using reserves.
“Their behaviour is a disgrace. Either they really do not know how serious the situation is that they have created by rushing to get brownie points by being the first to settle with the biggest front loading or they are deliberately trying to distract attention from the problems that they have created,” he wrote.
His concerns are high on the agenda when he meets with Mr Clegg for talks on Sunday but the party leadership was quick to distance itself from his accusations against the pair.
“These are Mr Kemp’s personal views and are not representative of Liberal Democrats in Government,” a spokesman for the Deputy Prime Minister said.
“The Coalition Government has, despite the financial mess Labour left us in, embarked on a radical shift of power away from central government to local government and communities.”
And Mr Shapps returned fire: “Mr Kemp will be rather embarrassed when he notices that on Monday his own council admitted its senior management was so bloated that it axed 48 posts saving the taxpayer £4.25 million. I don’t think even Richard could deny that this move will protect plenty of frontline staff.
“Maybe Mr Kemp is rattled by our new level of transparency meaning that all councils will have to publish expenditure over £500 online, exposing the inner workings of town halls to public scrutiny for the first time. This was a tough but fair settlement ensuring the most vulnerable communities were protected.
“If councils share back office services, join forces to procure, cut out the crazy non-jobs and root out the wild over-spends then they can protect frontline services.”