UK Politics

Liberal Democrat Richard Kemp criticises Tory ministers

Grant Shapps (left) and Eric Pickles
Image caption Richard Kemp criticised Grant Shapps (left) and Eric Pickles

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Housing Minister Grant Shapps have been accused of behaving "like Laurel and Hardy" by a senior Liberal Democrat.

Richard Kemp, leader of the Lib Dems in local government, wrote to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saying he felt they had not faced up to the effect of cuts.

Mr Kemp is a councillor in Liverpool, a city which will see an 8.9% reduction in spending power next year.

But Mr Shapps said there was "no excuse" for cuts to frontline services.

He said councils should consider sharing senior staff and offering joint services.

In his letter, Mr Kemp urged Mr Clegg to "rein in" Mr Pickles and he accused the two ministers of failing to acknowledge the effect government cuts will have on jobs and services.

Mr Kemp said the men "continually put forward the idea that all the savings at this massively high level can be made by increased efficiency, cuts in a small number of salaries, raiding reserves that are not needed".

"In fact almost every day we get from them a new gimmick," he wrote.

"Their behaviour is a disgrace. Either they really do not know how serious the situation is that they have created... or they are deliberately trying to distract attention from the problems that they have created."

But Mr Shapps said Liverpool has already cut 48 posts, saving more than £4m.

The pair clashed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme with Mr Shapps saying the cuts would mean an "enormous amounts of pain and restructuring".

'Real savings'

He added: "There is not a single council in the country that has taken all of those steps. Some councils are starting to do some sharing but no-one has got this far and until they have there is no reasons to be cutting the frontline. There is no excuse for making those cuts."

Mr Kemp responded: "We have made 3% real savings, verified by the Treasury, every year for the last eight years.

"We can make more, we should make more, we will make more. But are being led like lambs to the slaughter by Mr Pickles - local government are facing the biggest cuts in our budget of any part of the public sector and we are doing it up front.

"And while we are doing that, we have two ministers in particular - Mr Pickles and Mr Shapps - giving a very clear impression with a series of soundbites, which don't stand up to reality, which give the impression this is all easy."

Shadow communities and local government secretary Caroline Flint said: "People up and down the country are facing unprecedented frontloaded cuts to their local councils, putting growth, jobs and vital frontline services at risk."

She claimed the average cut to funding to councils in deprived communities was four times bigger than those in more affluent areas and added: "That's unfair and it shows just how out of touch this government is with ordinary people."

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