In his keynote address to the Unison Local Government conference in Bournemouth, Sir Jeremy (Lab) said: 'I deplore the fact that [Mr Byers] has been driven from office by a media campaign of unprecedented viciousness, stemming in part from his courageous decision to deal with Railtrack and begin to cut through the impossibly tangled structure the Tories left behind.'
Sir Jeremy said the former local government secretary was and still is deeply committed to local government and to improving relations between councils and the centre.
'It is characteristic of our media that in the political obituaries they wrote with such relish, no one mentioned his work in local government,' he added.
The LGA chair criticised the Conservatives belated attempt to jump on the public services bandwagon, describing its time in office as '18 locust years' for public services.
Sir Jeremy accepted his invitation to speak at the conference at a time where employers are at loggerheads with unions over a national pay settlement.
He gave assurances that local government staff are valued, but this did not go down well with delegates.
At the end of his speech, Unison president Veronica Dunn, who was chairing the session, said: 'You mentioned the local government workforce is skilled and highly valued. Can I add we would also like to be well paid.'
She was greeted with prolonged and rapturous applause by delegates.