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Clegg aims for city votes

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Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has emphasised his party’s “proud record of success” running English cities as the party prepares for losses in Thursday’s local elections.

In an exclusive letter to LGC, Mr Clegg compared the Liberal Democrat’s “dynamic and radical policies” in cities such as Newcastle, Sheffield and Liverpool to the “financial incompetence and waste” of Labour administrations.

The Lib Dems are expected to lose around 300 seats on Thursday, although the leader of the party’s councillors, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, has suggested the Conservatives will be affected worse by the coalition’s current troubles and that the Lib Dems will not do as badly as last year.

In the 2010 elections, the party lost one-in-four of its sitting councillors and lost control of a number of urban councils, including Newcastle City Council and Sheffield City Council.

We are localist and we believe that decisions about how a city is governed are best taken locally

Nick Clegg

In his letter, Mr Clegg wrote: “Although the Liberal Democrats are no longer in control of as many of our great cities as before, Liberal Democrat-led Bristol and Birmingham, where we are in coalition, are continuing to show the difference we can make.”

“At the same time our opposition groups in the other big cities are showing that there is a very real and positive alternative to wasteful and complacent Labour councils who seem to have learnt nothing from their years in opposition.”

Referring to the mayoral referendums due to take place on Thursday and the government’s promise of ‘city deals’ granting new powers to of the biggest cities, Mr Clegg said cities who voted against adopting a mayor could still get new powers.

“The only condition is strong and accountable leadership to ensure that the city can bear the increased responsibilities,” he wrote. “Although a directly accountable mayor is one way of ensuring that the necessary governance is in place, we are localist and we believe that decisions about how a city is governed are best taken locally.”

 

Dear Sir,

 

I am writing in my capacity as Leader of the Liberal Democrats to highlight the proud record of success that Liberal Democrat-led cities have had over the last decade. Liberal Democrat councils have pursued dynamic and radical policies across the range of municipal policy areas that have made a huge and lasting difference to the lives of the residents they serve. And all of these policies have had to be implemented on the back of a legacy of massive council tax rises combined with financial incompetence and waste left behind by outgoing Labour councils. A similar challenge to the ones we in government in Westminster are currently facing too. In Newcastle we built the first new council houses for a generation, in Sheffield we introduced community justice panels to ensure that reoffending was tackled fairly and effectively, in Liverpool we devolved power away from the Town Hall to local communities and in Hull we massively improved recycling rates.

Although the Liberal Democrats are no longer in control of as many of our great cities as before, Liberal Democrat-led Bristol and Birmingham, where we are in coalition, are continuing to show the difference we can make. Demonstrating that even in times of austerity it is possible to invest in the services local communities need whilst also make our councils more efficient, greener and more responsive to the concerns of local people. And at the same time our opposition groups in the other big cities are showing that there is a very real and positive alternative to wasteful and complacent Labour councils who seem to have learnt nothing from their years in opposition.

The government has announced that eight of the biggest English cities have a chance to negotiate city deals with central government to help bring about increased devolution to cities, giving more powers in a whole range of areas. This is a hugely exciting opportunity and is a reflection of what Liberal Democrats have campaigned on for many years in opposition that we are now delivering in government. Liverpool and Manchester have already reached excellent agreements, and I hope that others will follow soon. And I also hope that once these city deals have been shown to work that the devolution of powers can be extended to other local authorities over time.

These new powers are in no way contingent on cities voting to have mayors. The only condition is strong and accountable leadership to ensure that the city can bear the increased responsibilities. Our view is that each of our great cities is unique and has different needs, characteristics and ambitions. The appropriate governance structure may therefore be different for each city depending on its individual circumstances. This is about local choice and allowing local people to have a say on how their city is governed. Although a directly accountable mayor is one way of ensuring that the necessary governance is in place, we are localist and we believe that decisions about how a city is governed are best taken locally.

Yours,

Nick Clegg MP

Leader of the Liberal Democrats

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