UK Politics

Clegg praises Lib Dem councils ahead of elections

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Media captionNick Clegg says that his party's councils have helped to protect services

Nick Clegg has used a campaign speech for the local elections in England to praise the achievements of the coalition government and launch a scathing attack on Labour.

The Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister accused the Opposition of putting politics before people.

He said Lib Dem councils were doing a better job of protecting services than Labour and Tory-run authorities.

Labour accuse the Lib Dems and their Tory allies of penalising poorer areas.

'Politics first'

Addressing candidates in Sheffield - a Lib Dem-controlled council and the area Mr Clegg represents in Parliament - the Lib Dem leader reserved his sharpest attacks for Labour, singling out leader Ed Milliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls for criticism.

He accused them of "putting politics before honesty" over their strategy towards reducing the UK's deficit.

They are putting politics first and acting "like the last 13 years simply didn't happen", he said.

"Politics before people, politics before communities, politics before jobs, where there should be policies there is opportunism.

"Where there should be regrets there is denial. Where there should be answers, there is nothing."

Ahead of the local elections on 5 May, he also defended the Lib Dems' record in the coalition government.

The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition is reducing central funding to councils, as part of its package of spending cuts aimed at tackling the UK's budget deficit.

Lib Dem councillors have expressed anger that the budget squeeze has made them vulnerable in the coming local elections in England - with more than 90 criticising the scale and speed of cuts expected of local authorities in a letter to the Times in February.

'Minimum pain'

The number of Lib Dems putting themselves up for election is also down on 2007, according to figures released this month.

But Mr Clegg pointed to successes.

"We have taken nearly 900,000 of the lowest paid workers out of paying any income tax whatsoever. And we have given 23 million basic-rate taxpayers a £200 cash tax cut. Straight from the front page of our manifesto to the pockets of millions of taxpayers," he told those assembled.

"We're on the side of alarm-clock Britain. We're on the side of people who get up early, work hard, play by the rules.

"We're on the side of people who don't want to rely on the state, but want to know their children will get a decent education and their parents can enjoy retirement without fear and insecurity."

He also said his party's councillors were taking a more responsible approach to savings than their Labour and Conservative counterparts.

Mr Clegg said councils such as Sheffield, Portsmouth and Bristol had minimised redundancies and protected libraries and Sure Start centres but accused various Labour controlled councils of "slash and burn", closing libraries and facilities.

"Our councillors up and down the country are proving that, even in tough times, we can do great things," he said. "We are making difficult decisions with compassion and intelligence, keeping pain to a minimum and protecting the people who need the most help."

Mr Clegg also urged his activists to "take the fight" to the Conservatives but, unlike with Labour, largely contained his criticism to Tory-controlled councils.

Values

He accused two Conservative-controlled councils of rejecting Lib Dem proposals to help protect libraries and subsidised bus services.

"Working together in the national interest does not mean we agree on everything. And it doesn't mean we shouldn't be taking the fight to the Tories in the local elections," he said.

"When the Conservatives have local priorities that are not our priorities, we should say so.

"When the Conservatives are making mistakes locally, we should say so."

Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems "earned their stripes" in local government and, despite having to make tough and controversial decisions nationally, ministers were driven by the "same values" as their local colleagues and remained focused on helping those most in need.

Labour have said poorer areas will be disproportionately affected by the budget squeeze and their councils will be "the first line of defence" against cuts.

While conceding councils are facing "incredibly tough" choices, Mr Cameron has said Conservative town halls have proved they provide value for money and get things done on housing, enterprise, recycling and children's facilities.

More than 9,500 council seats are being contested in next month's poll - the largest test of public opinion since last year's general election.