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PM: Don't use cuts to harm services

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Councils should not use efficiency savings as an excuse to “harm” local services, David Cameron said ahead of local elections in England.

At Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday, David Cameron faced a sea of Conservative MPs who praised their local Tory-run councils and hit out at neighbouring Labour-run local authorities.

Hundreds of seats are expected to change hands when voters choose councillors in 279 authorities in most parts of England outside of London tomorrow.

Mr Cameron, right, told Tory MP Andrew Selous: “Well-run councils, making sure they’re cutting back office costs, can provide good services.

“And when you look at the figures, it’s not just that those Conservative councils are costing less (in council tax) for a Band D property, they’re also doing better on measures like recycling and other service delivery.

“So it’s simply not true to say that by cutting costs, you harm services. You’ve got to be effectively keeping your costs down in order to provide good services.”

Mr Selous (SW Bedfordshire) had praised Tory-run Central Bedfordshire Council for its “value for money, effectiveness and service delivery” and urged other councils to follow its lead.

The PM also hailed Conservative-run Wandsworth Council, telling Tory MP Jane Ellison: “What I think Wandsworth has shown for many years is that it is possible to combine low taxes with good services, if all the time you’re trying to improve efficiencies.

“That is what councils up and down our country should be focused on, particularly in a year when we have to make spending reductions.”

Conservative MP Greg Hands (Chelsea & Fulham) said three councils - Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, and Westminster - were discussing how to merge more of their services.

This would save £35m a year while still improving frontline services, he said.

“What can you do to encourage this approach rather than that of Labour-run Hounslow, which is closing daycare centres… and cutting mental health services in a slash-and-burn approach?”

The PM said he hoped other councils across England would take note.

“You have three large councils coming together and saving £35m because they’re sharing back-office services and executive teams and the rest of it,” he said.

“And, frankly, if they can do it, as large councils that have big responsibilities, you should have many other councils doing it in London and elsewhere.

“Until we see that happening, I don’t think it’s realistic to say that it’s necessary for councils to cut frontline services.”

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