Councillor Anne Western, Labour Leader of Derbyshire County Council, in her column below responds to an article written by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in the Derbyshire Times.
I know tit-for-tat politics turns most people off (including me) but when I read the column by Eric Pickles MP in the Derbyshire Times this week I felt I had no choice but to respond.
It is all too easy for Mr Pickles in his Westminster office to deliver a few carefully chosen sound bites in a thinly disguised attempt to score political points for his parliamentary candidate for North East Derbyshire.
I would argue that it is far harder to be here in Derbyshire being forced to make the massive cuts imposed on local councils by the coalition government. Derbyshire County Council alone has had its budget slashed by £157m.
Last May Labour was elected with a significant majority to serve the people of this county. The same could not be said for Mr Pickles and his coalition government.
Local people voted for a clear mandate for change at Derbyshire County Council – so yes, changes have been made and I make no apology for that.
In his Derbyshire Times piece Mr Pickles claims we have increased our cabinet members’ allowances. He omits to mention that the changes we made are saving the taxpayer many thousands of pounds by reducing and streamlining cabinet, selling the previous Conservative administration’s civic cars and scrapping the post of chauffeur.
He also writes about pay-offs but neglects to point to the £2 million we will save every year by radically reducing the number of senior managers, on top of £200,000 already saved on management costs this year.
Then he goes on to talk about ‘fair funding’ for local councils. Have I missed the joke? I can assure Mr Pickles that local councils like Derbyshire continually taking the lion’s share of government cuts is far from fair. Councils in the leafy South East of England have been protected, I wonder why?
And his suggestion that Derbyshire should concentrate on being efficient and innovative is frankly an insult to all our staff who work so hard to make every penny go further, whilst working under ever increasing pressure and facing constant uncertainty about their jobs.
We are doing everything we can to protect services in Derbyshire from the government cuts. We are examining every penny we spend, working with other councils to share services, selling land and buildings, and cutting senior management and back office expenses.
Despite the devastating government cuts we are highly ambitious for Derbyshire and we are working hard alongside other councils and business leaders to attract even more investment and jobs to our county.
But the scale of the cuts (around a third of our budget will go by 2018) means it is absolutely inevitable that some frontline services will be lost and others will be heavily reduced.
Next week we will be publishing our five year financial strategy which lays bare the reality of what the coalition government’s cuts will do to services in Derbyshire and the effect they will have on local people’s lives. I will make sure Mr Pickles receives a copy.