Nick Clegg points finger at county Tories during Somerset visit
They may be in national government together but Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched a savage attack on Conservative priorities at the weekend as Liberal Democrat troops gathered to prepare for the battle for Somerset.
He accused the Tory administration of Somerset County Council of wasting taxpayers’ money and making cuts to services and staff which “have forced this county to its knees over the last four years.”
He said: “The Lib Dems want to run services with down-to-earth common sense.”
The Conservatives took control of the county council in 2009 after 16 years of Liberal Democrat rule. They accused the Liberal Democrats of running up £360 million worth of debt and launched a three-year programme of spending cuts.
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On Saturday, Mr Clegg and former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown joined MPs and candidates at the launch of the party’s bid to win back control of the council. Addressing candidates at the Moorland Hall, in Highbridge, Mr Clegg said: “The Conservatives think it’s OK to have under-spent £18million last year, to have under-spent reserves of I think £20million and spend £4million on furniture and a million pounds on PR and then slash youth services by 75 per cent. They think it’s more important to spend money on PR and their own furniture than young people in Somerset, and then there are the 12 bus routes that they slashed right to the bone.
“I don’t think we should ever flinch from difficult decisions as we make the painstaking job of reforming the deeply damaged British economy. But when you are faced with an environment where there isn’t very much money, that is when your priorities count, and we are unapologetic in saying that we look at young people ahead of office furniture and we look at police community support officers in front of under-spending reserves and bus routes in front of PR consultants.”
Lord Ashdown, the former MP for Yeovil, said: “Compared with other counties, Somerset received a generous grant from Government during the last few years. But the swingeing cuts made to vital services are unprecedented and unnecessary. Everyone knows the financial climate is tough and we have to be sensible with money, but the Conservative county council are irresponsible and ideologically driven.”
Councillor Sam Crabb, leader of the Lib Dem opposition on the county council, said that after spending £303,000 on clearing up fly-tipping after closing some recycling centres and introducing charges, spending £71,300 on legal fees to defend library closures in court and an estimated £565,000 on re-opening libraries, the Conservative administration should “hang its head in shame.”
Councillor John Osman, leader of the council said yesterday: “The Liberal Democrats over 16 years forced Somerset to its knees. They are responsible for £350million of debt, for which we are paying to the tune of £30million a year. Over the last four years we have frozen council tax, we have reduced debt and have reduced the burden on Somerset families.”
He said youth club services had been passed to others and the £4 million allegedly spent on furniture includes rewiring offices and removing asbestos as part of a rationalisation of property.