A number of Labour council leaders have refused to endorse comments made by the party’s leader in support of councils that refuse to set legal budgets.
Jeremy Corbyn said he understood why councils might choose to break the law in order to make a political point about a lack of money.
“I absolutely understand it,” Mr Corbyn told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. “I represent an inner city area, Islington, as you know, and we were very angry in the 1980s at the way in which our council expenditure were cut, and I’m very angry now when I see local authorities trying their best to deliver good quality services and the whole time the government is either cutting – is cutting the central government grant and saying they can keep some of their rate income, but of course that’s not fair across the country.”
This came after shadow equalities secretary Dawn Butler praised the Militantrun Liverpool City Council of the 1980s for the way it “stood up to Thatcher and said better to break the law than break the poor” by setting an unbalanced budget and demanding the government make up the deficit.
Nick Forbes, Labour leader on the Local Government Association, told a group meeting at the conference on Monday: “I remember when Militants ran Liverpool council. Some people today are saying it was the best time ever but no, it bloody well wasn’t. “There was nothing good about the time when people lost their jobs at the council because it wouldn’t deliver a balanced budget.”
Jon Collins, the Labour leader of Nottingham City Council, agreed and said official party policy on illegal budgets is “clear”.
“The party does not support the setting of illegal budgets and quite right too,” said Cllr Collins. “But fundamentally the issue is not whether we should or should not be able to set illegal budgets. We should be able to get enough resources to deliver the services our communities need and the problem is where the funding is.
“At the moment we have an unfair funding system which is skewed towards the better off and towards the south and south-east. Ultimately we [in local government] are starved of the proper resources we need to address the needs in our communities.”
Peter Lamb (Lab), leader of Crawley BC, said Labour councillors had “always valued” the fact Mr Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell “have always been clear in the past they recognise the tough job that councils do”. He added: “We balance budgets while maintaining services within a legal framework. If we don’t make the tough choices then the national government comes in and makes them for us.
“A Militant-style scenario wouldn’t be doing our residents any favours.”