The leader of Conservatives in local government has been criticised after claiming people from the north of England should consider doing menial work currently done by immigrants.
In a debate at the Local Government Association’s Executive on Thursday, David Shakespeare, leader of Buckinghamshire CC and of the LGA’s Conservative group, said people from poorer parts of the country should working collecting fruit if there were no jobs in their areas.
“The north may replace the Romanians in the cherry orchards,” Cllr Shakespeare said. “That may be a good thing.”
His comments came during a debate about the prospect of councils being allowed to keep the business rates they collect rather than being redistributed to poorer areas.
LGA chairman Baroness Margaret Eaton (Con) immediately rebuked Cllr Shakespeare for his “horrible” comment. Speaking to LGC later, Rob Light, leader of the Conservative group on Kirklees Metropolitan Council and also an LGA Executive member, said: “I think it clearly was a comment that could be misinterpreted.
“I’m assured it’s the view of an individual and not of Conservatives in local government. It’s certainly not the view of Conservatives in local government in the north.”
In last month’s local growth white paper, the government announced it was considering allowing councils to retain the business rate revenues they collect from local firms rather than surrendering them to the Treasury as currently happens to be redistributed through formula grant.
Stephen Jones, the LGA’s director of finance and performance, gave a presentation to the Executive explaining how business rates could be localised whilst retaining an element of equalisation.
However, Peter Fleming (Con) of Sevenoaks DC representing the District Councils Network, called for all business rates to be retained locally.
“If councils only allowed to keep what we use and budget for then that’s not attractive,” he said. “I want to use business rates to help firms in my area. Redistribution of business rates is simply a welfare payment to areas that don’t contribute.”
These comments were dismissed by Stephen Houghton (Lab), leader of Barnsley MBC, who insisted resources had to be “distributed on the basis of need” and that there could be “no localisation without equalisation”.
It was at this point that Cllr Shakespeare made his comments.
Mehboob Khan (Lab), leader of Kirklees, said via Twitter Cllr Shakespeare’s comments were “outrageous” and showed “the level of contempt Tories have [for] people living north of [the] Midlands”.
Neither Cllr Shakespeare nor the LGA Conservative group were able to provide further comment.