The leader of the Liberal Democrats in local government has pinned the blame for the party’s “battering” in the local elections on Tory communities secretary Eric Pickles and called for a renegotiation of councils’ funding settlement.
With the party losing hundreds of councillors and control of a number of city councils, Richard Kemp, leader of the Lib Dem group on the Local Government Association, said the timing of cuts to council budgets should form part of any reassessment of the coalition’s future.
“It was clearly a grim night for the Lib Dems and that was partly because Labour was able to portray the cuts as savage,” he told LGC. “The real problem is the Department for Communities & Local Government and the secretary of state Eric Pickles.
“What we now need to do is very clearly go back and renegotiate the last three years of the four year funding settlement and make sure the cuts are more evenly spread - there are still pretty heavy cuts to fall next year too.
“I’m not asking for more money but for the next three years to be evened out,” he added. “That’s a reasonable request. There’s no point me asking for more money - I’m not a deficit denier and anyway, I’d be laughed out of the room – but if I come up with a reasonable request then I expect it to get a fair hearing.”
Last October’s spending review saw local government’s department expenditure limit reduced from £28.5bn in 2010-11 by £5.6bn over four years. However, £4.1bn of those cuts is to fall in the first two years and just £1.5bn in the second two.
Asked whether he thought the prospect of spreading the cuts more evenly would find favour with Mr Pickles, Cllr Kemp replied: “I would be looking over their heads frankly. [Party leader] Nick Clegg rang me on Tuesday and I will be arranging a meeting for all our group leaders about what we do next and how we work in local government.”
The scale of cuts to Liverpool City Council’s budget proved massively contentious in the run up to the elections. In February, both council leader Joe Anderson (Lab) and the then leader of the council’s Lib Dem group Warren Bradley marched side-by-side in protest against the cuts. Cllr Bradley later hit out against Mr Clegg, claiming in an email the cuts would see cause an electoral “meltdown” for the party in the city.
Last night he was proved right, with Cllr Kemp one of just two Lib Dems to successfully defend their seats out of 14 up for grabs.