Richard Kemp, leader of the Liberal Democrats in local government, has claimed party leader Nick Clegg does not share the view of Conservative ministers as to the severity of the cuts coming councils’ way, following a meeting on Monday afternoon.
Cllr Kemp said: “Nick Clegg, as deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrat party, is under no illusion as to the difficulty local government will have in meeting the settlement. He knows there are no easy answers or glib solutions.”
Cllr Kemp said he had agreed a ‘series of actions’ to take place between the two party figureheads and their advisers between Christmas and early spring on:
- The “short-term problems being faced by local government in delivering the financial settlement”
- The “need for the government to accurately describe those problems”
- The “need to move swiftly to a major overhaul of the local government finance system”
- And the “need to pull together the various strands of localism running throughout government into a coherent body of policy and actions”
The first two points refer to the front-loaded nature of the cuts being made to central government grants to councils and to the way ministers have claimed they can be dealt with through increased efficiency and reductions to senior salaries.
Cllr Kemp’s meeting with Mr Clegg came after a series of bad-tempered exchanges between Cllr Kemp and communities secretary Eric Pickles and housing minister Grant Shapps.
On Friday, Cllr Kemp called on Mr Clegg to “rein in” Mr Pickles and Mr Shapps, likening them to “Laurel and Hardy” after they claimed council cuts could be dealt with relatively easily.
Mr Shapps responded on Twitter, saying: “Perhaps this makes Richard Kemp the hapless Harold Lloyd [a prominent American silent comedy actor in the inter-war years], though unlike Richard that character was always silent.”
Over the weekend, a spokesman for Mr Clegg said: “These are Mr Kemp’s personal views and are not representative of Liberal Democrats in government.”
Speaking to LGC after his meeting, Mr Kemp said he had been given assurances Mr Pickles’ and Mr Shapps’ views were not shared by Lib Dem ministers.
“You can be assured Lib Dem ministers will not be following those lines,” he said.
He also insisted he had not been asked to hold off on further attacks on the two ministers. “He wouldn’t have wasted his time asking.”
“It is only the parliamentary parties that are in coalition, not the parties themselves,” he added. “I’m certainly not in coalition with the Tories.”