POLITICS

David Cameron's Oxfordshire Council Cuts 'Hypocrisy' - 116 Labour Council Leaders Demand 'Personal' No.10 Meetings

12/11/2015 15:53 GMT | Updated 12/11/2015 19:59 GMT
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British Prime Minister David Cameron leaves Downing street to greet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at treasury drum in London on November 12, 2015. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and address a huge rally at London's Wembley Stadium during a three-day visit to Britain focused on trade and investment starting today. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 100 Labour town hall leaders are to inundate David Cameron with requests for No.10 meetings in a fresh bid to highlight his ‘hypocrisy’ over Oxfordshire council cuts.

The Prime Minister sparked the backlash after writing to his local county council to complain that Tory budget cuts were hitting key services like children’s centres, elderly daycare and libraries.

In a leaked letter, Mr Cameron offered the Conservative leader of Oxfordshire County Council a personal meeting with his Downing Street policy unit in an attempt to mitigate cuts to local residents - including those in his own constituency of Witney.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth has already accused him of breaching the ministerial code by appearing to conflate his Government role with that of a local MP.

But HuffPost UK has learned that the party will now get all of its 116 council chiefs – in Metropolitan, district, unitary and county councils - to write to Mr Cameron to demand personal, one-on-one meetings with his No.10 policy unit specialist on local government.

The mass letter-writing tactic is aimed at ensuring that Mr Cameron is not offering any ‘special favours’ to his own council to cushion the impact of Treasury cuts.

Among those firing off letters today were Lambeth, Leeds, Newcastle, Hammersmith and Fulham, Gedling, Ealing and Plymouth councils.

Only this week, the Department for Communities and Local Government was one of the first four Whitehall departments to agree 30% cuts in spending by 2020, a move that experts claim will result in the deepest budget reductions in living memory.

Councils make up a quarter of all public spending and Tory councils have become much more vociferous in recent months about the level of cuts being demanded by the Treasury.

“If Cameron refuses to grant our council leaders the same access as his own local council leader, it will be a clear abuse of power,” one Labour insider said.

The party is coralling its 117 council leaders - and more who run councils with no overall control - to write at the same time, so that Mr Cameron has no option but to deal with them.

The plan could clog up the Policy Unit's diary for months, but if the requests are refused the PM increases the chances of having breached the ministerial code.

Cameron's Letter


Hudspeth's Letter to Cameron


Mr Cameron has been ridiculed on social media since his original letter to Oxfordshire county council leader Ian Hudspeth was leaked to the Oxford Mail.

He had written that he was disappointed" to hear of proposals "to make significant cuts to frontline services – from elderly day centres, to libraries, to museums".

"This is in addition to the unwelcome and counter-productive proposals to close children’s centres across the county,” he added.

The Witney MP went on to bemoan that council chiefs should focus on “making back-office savings” and selling off surplus property, before opining that there has only been “a slight fall in government grants in cash terms”.

But Mr Cameron then sought to smooth relations by offered to save the council money by allowing the merger of its health and social services budget just as ministers had allowed Greater Manchester to do – but only on condition it stopped service cuts.

“As part of a devolution deal, such an initiative could potentially be available to Oxfordshire, provided there was reassurance that the County wsa taking a constructive approach to protecting frontline services,” he wrote.

“In that context, I would be happy to initiate a further dialogue with advisers in the No.10 Policy Unit and yourself – please contact Sheridan Westlake..if you wish to take this up”.

In his reply, Mr Hudspeth hit back by pointing out his council had already slashed thousands of jobs and seen its budget cut by 37% by central Government.

But he also replied: “I am arranging a meeting with Sheridan as quickly as possible as I am open to all suggestions that will help.”

Shadow minister Mr Ashworth has written to the Cabinet Secretary to ask him to investigate a possible breach of the ministerial code.

The code states that “Ministers in the House of Commons must keep separate their roles as Minister and constituency Member” and that “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”.

Mr Ashworth today told the BBC: “Surely the leader of the prime minister’s county council should not be given preferential treatment?”