Wales politics

Clegg says Lib Dems don't relish cuts on Welsh visit

Nick Clegg
Image caption Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is hitting the campaign trail in south, mid and north Wales

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has said his party does not relish cutting spending, as he hits the election trail in Wales.

The deputy prime minister has joined his party's campaign for May's Welsh assembly election.

He said his party wanted to get young people into work and ensure a "fair deal" for school children.

Labour announced the defection of a former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate ahead of Mr Clegg's visit on Friday.

Mr Clegg is the second UK party leader to campaign in the assembly election. David Cameron visited Swansea last week.

At a care home near Newport - the first in a series of stops across Wales - Mr Clegg was asked if he would be an asset to the Welsh Lib Dem campaign, given the cuts in public spending imposed by the coalition UK government.

"I think people have to make up their own minds. I've always been very open and candid that this government in London is doing some very, very difficult things which of course is controversial," he said.

"I didn't come into politics to announce cuts. It's not something I take any pleasure in. The Liberal Democrats don't relish this."

Failing to sort out the country's finances would saddle future generations with more debt, he said.

Mr Clegg has been attacked by opponents this week over plans to reform internships. The Lib Dems say they will push their MPs to give more help to unpaid staff.

Asked about four posts for unpaid interns which were advertised by the Welsh Lib Dems in February, he said that "all political parties have been relying on the kind of free labour, if you like, of young people for a very long time and we need to change that".

The Welsh Lib Dems have said they will fight the campaign on the economy, promising to tackle low skills and create jobs.

Mr Clegg said he was a "passionate supporter" of a Welsh Lib Dem pledge to offer £2,000 grants to train the staff of companies that hire unemployed young people.

On Friday Labour announced former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Paul Penlington, who stood for the Vale of Clwyd constituency last year, had defected.

Labour Cardiff Central candidate Jenny Rathbone said: "I think Nick Clegg is no longer an electoral asset for the Liberal Democrats and the fact he's going to Newport and he's not even going to talk to the passport office workers tells you a great deal about how he's trying to avoid any of the hard decisions that he might want to be questioned about."

Mr Clegg was also stopping at Welshpool, Wrexham, Llandudno and Aberaeron.

Elsewhere, the Tories and Plaid Cymru were campaigning on the economy.

Conservative candidates visited a greengrocers in Fairwater, Cardiff, whose business rates would be wiped out by a Conservative assembly government.

The Tories would abolish rates for businesses with a rateable value up to £12,000, with tapered rates from £12,001 to £15,000.

Nick Bourne, leader of the Conservatives in the assembly, said a "more competitive" business rate regime would encourage start-ups.

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, whose party was opening a new campaign headquarters in Cardiff, said: "We say there are no excuses here.

"We understand that the economy needs to be strengthened and I acknowledged that when the economic renewal programme was written.

"The Welsh economy does need to be strengthened and we've got ideas in this election about how to do that."