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Osborne brushes off councillors' cuts call

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Chancellor George Osborne has brushed aside appeals by Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors to slow the pace of the coalition’s spending cuts.

Mr Osborne said that while he understood there were “difficult decisions” to be taken on spending, it was essential that the government tackled the deficit in the public finances.

Eighty-eight local Lib Dem group leaders - including 17 council leaders - signed an open letter warning that the way the cuts had been “front-loaded” by the Treasury would have an “undoubted impact” on public services.

Mr Osborne, however, retorted: “The national credit card had been completely maxed out and if we don’t deal with that, there will be no jobs, no growth, no investment in our public services.”

His comments were echoed by Downing Street which warned that putting off dealing with the deficit would simply make the situation worse in the long run.

“Delaying that process will just mean you need to pay more in debt interest which is money down the drain,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

He added that “good councils” should have foreseen that spending cuts were on the way and prepared accordingly.

The comments from Mr Osborne came as more than 130 Labour council leaders and group leaders followed their Lib Dem counterparts in writing to the Times to claim the cuts would damage the economy.

The signatorees claimed communities secretary Eric Pickles had been “disingenous” about the impact the cuts would have.

“We therefore invite Liberal Democrat councillors to join us in writing to their fellow Liberal Democrat, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, to ask him to ask Eric Pickles to look again at the unfairness of the Tory-Lib Dem government’s cuts,” the letter said.

In their letter to The Times, the Lib Dem councillors argued that the cuts would damage the economy and hit the most vulnerable.

“These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all front-line council services, including care services to the vulnerable,” they said.

“Rather than assist the country’s recovery by making savings to the public in a way that can protect local economies and the front line, the cuts are structured in such a way that they will do the opposite.”

Underlining the tensions within the coalition, they also bitterly attacked the Conservative communities secretary Eric Pickles for his “gunboat diplomacy” approach to dealing with councils.

“Unfortunately, Eric Pickles has felt it better to shake a stick at councillors than work with us,” they said.

Andrew Stunell, a Lib Dem minister in the Department for Communities & Local Government, appealed to his party colleagues not to fall out in what he described as a “pointless debate”.

“Whilst I fully understand the real challenges councils face I think it will be much better to direct all our energy to solving these problems rather than falling out between ourselves,” he said.

“Let’s get round the table and just sort this out.”

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