The formation of the Coalition in May 2010 was meant to herald an era of new politics, more consensual than Thatcherism and more inclusive than Blairism. But someone clearly forgot to tell Eric Pickles. Richard Kemp, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Local Government Association, has recently discovered this.
Cllr Kemp and many other leading Liberal Democrat councillors wrote a letter to the Times on Thursday criticising the Coalition’s approach to cutting local government spending. While accepting the need for cuts, they argue that forcing councils to make the deepest cuts this year causes unnecessary damage:
This front-loading means councils do not have the lead-in time necessary to re-engineer services on a lower cost base and ease staff cuts without forced, expensive redundancies. Inexplicably, local government is also being denied the opportunity to spread the cost of reorganisation and downsizing over several years – at no cost to central government – which just makes even bigger in-year cuts inevitable.
Cllr Kemp and Mr Pickles are hardly best of chums already, but the response of the Conservative spin machine (for, alas, there is still one) is rather below the belt: they decided to go for Cllr Kemp’s wife.
As it turns out, the angle they had hoped for (the LGA paying the Local Government Leadership Centre to employ Erica Kemp) turned out to be groundless – the Leadership Centre is in fact funded by Mr Pickles’ department. So instead the Sunday Express began working on the a story accusing the Kemps (who under 19th-century interpretations of marriage are not two people but one flesh) of being overpaid Town Hall bureaucrats.
Does Eric Pickles (salary: £134,565) really think that Cllr Kemp is overpaid, with his £61,400 a year? For comparison, backbench MPs are paid £65,738 (excluding allowances). Given Cllr Kemp’s 60+ hours a week workload one could be forgiven for thinking he is actually underpaid compared to an MP.
I hope the Sunday Express will find something more interesting to publish than an attack on a councillor whose only crime was to make some very reasonable criticisms of government policy. Meanwhile, Mr Pickles might consider the case for allowing councils to spread the pain of local government cuts over a longer period. Surely the Conservative “Invitation to join the Government of Britain” should apply to councillors too?
Update: The Sunday Express article is as bad as I feared. It is interesting how they try to merge the Kemps into one pseudo-person on £100,000 a year – which is still less than Mr Pickles’ salary! It is also less than the salary of most local authority chief executives, who in many cases are overpaid.
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Photo credits. Eric Pickles (top): Department for Communities and Local Government on Flickr republished under the CC BY-ND 2.0 licence.
Richard Kemp (bottom): Liberal Democrats on Flickr republished under the CC BY-ND 2.0 licence.