London: Leaders of the Liberal Democrats
party, the main ally in the UK coalition government, have
rebelled against the scale and depth of public funding cuts
that will adversely affect services of local councils.
The protest by senior Liberal Democrat leaders is
significant since the party is in a coalition with the
Conservatives and a party to all decisions to cut public
funding intended to reduce burgeoning fiscal deficit.
After major cuts in university funding and hike in
fees were announced, students went on a rampage on the streets
of London, while lecturers and professors went on a strike at
the University of the West of England in Bristol today.
In a letter to the Times newspaper, signed by 17
council leaders and 71 local Liberal Democrat chiefs, the
depth of frustration felt by party councillors over the
"difficult cuts package" has been highlighted. They say the
cuts have hit local government the hardest.
The Liberal Democrats' anger is levelled against the
Conservative Secretary of State for Communities, Eric Pickles,
whom they accuse of "gunboat diplomacy" and being "unwilling
to lead the change that is so desperately needed".
"These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all
frontline council services," they wrote.
"Rather than assist the country's recovery by making
savings to the public in a way that can protect local
economies and the front line, the cuts are structured in such
a way that they will do the opposite," the leaders said.
They said instead of chastising and denigrating local
authorities through the media, "the government should deploy
all its efforts to help councils minimise the impact on
vulnerable communities and frontline services."
Dave Prentis, the leader of the public sector union
Unison, said Liberal Democrat councillors charged with
implementing cuts were "waking up to the dangers".
"It's no wonder that cracks are appearing this fast
and this early ? it's in tune with the accelerated speed and
scale of the Tory-led cuts. The damage and dislocation the
cuts cause threatens to undermine stability in communities
across the UK, leading to social unrest," he said.
Richard Kemp, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group
at the Local Government Association and one of the signatories
to the letter, said the councillors were not seeking to split
the party, stressing that he had "no intention" of quitting.
But he said the Cameron government would regret the
First Published: Thursday, February 10, 2011, 21:47