PM ‘out of touch’ with cuts

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

THE Prime Minister is in a “bubble of unreality” when it comes to cuts to local government, the leader of Wigan Council has said.

The claim comes as a letter sent by David Cameron to the leader of Oxfordshire Council expressing “disappointment” at the way savings were being achieved has prompted a scathing reaction from Labour figures.

Lord Peter Smith

Lord Peter Smith

In the letter, addressed to Ian Hudspeth in the PM’s home constituency, Mr Cameron said: “I was disappointed at the long list of suggestions floated in the briefing note to make significant cuts to frontline services - from elderly day centres to libraries to museums.

“I would have hoped that Oxfordshire would instead be following the best practice of Conservative councils from across the country in making back office savings and protecting the front line.”

In response, Mr Hudspeth replied that the council had already cut its back office functions, looked at shared services, reduced staff numbers by thousands and disposed of property.

He pointed out new functions that had transferred to the council, including public health and social care and disputed the PM’s assertion that funding had only seen a “slight fall.”

Lord Smith, who is overseeing Wigan’s efforts to make £60m worth of savings before 2020, said the letter shows how out of touch the Prime Minister and Chancellor George Osborne are on the effects of their budget cuts.

He told the Evening Post: “It just shows the Prime Minister and Chancellor live in a bubble of unreality forcing deep cuts on local government without understanding or worrying about the consequences until it affects their constituencies.

“And the cuts have not been fair across the country but deliberately targeted on Labour councils in the north. We took all the easy decisions which had less public impact in the early years to achieve our cuts of over £100m. The further cuts of probably another £60m will only be possible because of the work we are doing with our communities through the Wigan Deal.”

These views were echoed by shadow home secretary Andy Burnham who posted a link to the letter from his Twitter account.

The Leigh MP said: “If you work for a council, please don’t read this article. It will make you so annoyed you won’t be able to sleep.”

Mr Cameron is also facing questions on whether the letter, which offers help to the council from the Number 10 Policy Unit, has breached the ministerial code.

The code states: “Ministers are provided with facilities at government expense to enable them to carry out their official duties.

“These facilities should not generally be used for party or constituency activities.”

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jonathan Ashworth has written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to complain. He said: “It feels like a breach and I hope the Cabinet Secretary will look into it.”