Chancellor George Osborne has brushed aside appeals by senior Liberal Democrat councillors to slow the pace of the coalition’s spending cuts.
Mr Osborne said that while he understands there are “difficult decisions” to be taken on spending, it is essential that the Government tackles the deficit in the public finances.
Eighty-eight local Lib Dem group leaders – including 17 council leaders – signed an open letter warning that the way the cuts had been “front-loaded” by the Treasury would have an “undoubted impact” on public services.
Mr Osborne, however, retorted: “The national credit card had completely maxed out and if we don’t deal with that, there will be no jobs, no growth, no investment in our public services.”
His comments were echoed by Downing Street, which warned that putting off dealing with the deficit would simply make the situation worse in the long run.
“Delaying that process will just mean you need to pay more in debt interest which is money down the drain,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said, adding that “good councils” should have foreseen that spending cuts were on the way and prepared accordingly.
In their letter to The Times, the Lib Dem councillors argued that the cuts would damage the economy and hit the most vulnerable, saying: “These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all frontline council services, including care services to the vulnerable.
“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.”
Underlining the tensions within the coalition, they also bitterly attacked the Conservative Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles for his “gunboat diplomacy” approach to dealing with councils.
“Unfortunately, Eric Pickles has felt it better to shake a stick at councillors than work with us,” they said.