On Saturday, Nick Clegg delivered a speech to local party activists in Sheffield on the difference that Liberal Democrat councils across Britain are making. It’s a good speech which expands on many of the examples that we started to hear at conference in Sheffield last month about how Liberal Democrat councils are using innovative techniques to keep service and job losses to a minimum in these difficult financial times.
Here’s the speech in full:
The Liberal Democrats have a long, proud and successful history in local government.
We run some of the nation’s biggest cities and some of the most effective councils across the country.
And now we are finally putting the decades of experience built up in local government at the heart of national government.
It wasn’t just Lib Dems in Westminster who turned up on their first day to find a note saying ‘sorry, there’s no money left’.
Our councillors are used to clearing up the mess left behind by Labour.
In Oldham, Liberal Democrats have turned around a council that Labour left with a £20m black hole in the budget.
Here in Sheffield, Paul Scriven and his team inherited an annual bill of up to £30m for the World Student Games – an event that took place 20 years ago and won’t be paid off until 2024!
So difficult decisions are things we are used to.
But our record shows that we can make those hard choices and still deliver better, fairer services for communities across the country.
That is why, as we make tough and sometimes controversial decisions in national government, we are still able to deliver for those who need help the most.
This month, we have taken nearly 900,000 of the lowest paid workers out of paying Income Tax altogether.
And by doing so we have given 23m people on low and middle incomes a £200 tax cut.
Straight from the front page of our manifesto to the pockets of millions of taxpayers.
And in last month’s budget we announced we will take hundreds of thousands more people out of tax next year and cut taxes for families even further.
We have made life better for pensioners by giving them a decent increase in their pensions every year – something they lost under Thatcher and never got from Labour.
Because of Liberal Democrats, pensioners retiring today can expect to get £15,000 more in basic state pension over their retirement than they would have done under Labour.
And for future pensioners, a more generous, flat rate pension that means people can look forward to retirement with confidence and security.
We have given extra money to schools to help the most disadvantaged pupils, which in turn will help every pupil, every school and every community in England.
We are ensuring that, as we build a new economy from the rubble of the old, we are making sure that wealth is spread across the whole country – not just London and the South East.
That’s why we have invested in more apprenticeships than Britain has ever had before.
We have introduced Local Enterprise Partnerships and Enterprise Zones, like the ones announced here in Sheffield, to bring jobs where they are needed the most.
And this week we have been able to announce the first successful bids from the Regional Growth Fund, including £47m for seven projects to boost jobs here in Yorkshire.
Lib Dem councils
We would not be in a position to do these things nationally had we not earned our stripes as strong local champions.
We have benefited from the experience of years running successful local councils.
And as we approach the local elections in May we must shout those successes from the rooftops.
Look at what Paul Scriven and his Liberal Democrat team have done here in Sheffield.
They have turned around local schools.
They have insulated 13,000 homes free of charge.
And they are making Sheffield the first city in the country to generate enough renewable energy to become self-sufficient in 10 year’s time.
Look at Hull, where Liberal Democrats have frozen Council Tax, improved roads and recycling and slashed senior management pay.
Look at Chesterfield, where Liberal Democrats are not cutting any services or jobs, while again freezing Council Tax and creating partnerships with other councils and charities to deliver savings.
And across the country, we can be proud that while we are investing in schools and early years education we can also say that unlike the other parties, Liberal Democrats are not closing a single SureStart children’s centre.
And no council where Liberal Democrats are in a majority is closing a single library.
Because we know where our priorities lie.
We are on the side of Alarm Clock Britain.
We are on the side of people who get up early, work hard and play by the rules.
We are on the side of people who don’t want state handouts, but want to know their children will get a decent education and their parents can enjoy retirement without fear and insecurity.
We are on the side of people who don’t want to hear politicians telling them how to live their lives, they just want to see their hard work rewarded.
You are the backbone of our society and the Liberal Democrats, in Government and in councils across the country, are on your side.
The same cannot be said of the Labour Party.
Ed Miliband and Ed Balls may not be able to say what their policies are, but their priority has become clear.
They put politics first.
Politics before people.
Politics before communities.
Politics before jobs.
Where there should be policies, there is opportunism.
Where there should be regrets, there is denial.
Where there should be answers, there is nothing.
No policies, no regrets and no answers.
They have turned from the party of government to the party of no.
They act like the last 13 years didn’t happen.
Like Gordon Brown and Ed Balls didn’t let the banks run riot and leave us on the verge of economic ruin.
Like Alistair Darling didn’t admit they would have made deeper cuts than Thatcher.
Like the difficult decisions councils up and down the country are having to make are not a direct result of their incompetence.
Actions speak louder than words.
Labour hiked up tax on the poorest by scrapping the 10p rate, the Liberal Democrats have lifted nearly 900,000 of the poorest workers out of tax altogether.
Labour insulted pensioners with a measly 75p rise, the Liberal Democrats have ensured meaningful pension rises by restoring the earnings link.
Labour let bankers gamble recklessly with your money and lose, the Liberal Democrats hit the banks with a £10bn tax.
Labour trampled on your civil liberties, the Liberal Democrats scrapped ID cards and destroyed the National Identity database.
Labour promised a referendum on voting reform in 1997, the Liberal Democrats delivered one in 2011.
The Liberal Democrats have given councils more power to make decisions the way they see fit.
The only power Labour gave councils was the power to snoop on your bins.
When Labour politicians shriek from the sidelines about cuts remember their own plan was to cut £14bn THIS year.
For every £8 that this government is cutting, they would cut £7.
The difference is they won’t tell you what they would cut because they put politics before honesty.
Politics before responsibility.
Politics before reality.
Here in Sheffield, we’ve heard David Blunkett shamelessly scaremongering, warning of a ‘post-Soviet meltdown’ with people fending for themselves.
It’s not just nonsense, it’s dangerous and it’s insulting.
When the leaders of the Labour Party in Westminster put political opportunism above all else, it can be no surprise to see Labour councils doing exactly the same.
How else can you explain why Labour-run councils are slashing services and jobs when Lib Dem councils wrestling with the same budget cuts are able to keep pain to a minimum?
Across the Pennines, Labour-run Manchester is scrapping 2,000 jobs while here in Sheffield, where we have had a similar budget cut, Liberal Democrats have kept compulsory redundancies down to 270.
But if Manchester is the slash and burn council, Labour-run Brent takes the biscuit for most outrageous behaviour.
In Brent, not only is Labour closing half its libraries, an environmental education centre and a sports centre, they spent thousands of pounds on a luxury away day at a country hotel in Buckinghamshire to discuss cuts.
Yet Lib Dem-run Bristol has a similar budget cut and is not closing a single library, swimming pool or SureStart centre and is investing an extra £1.7m in child care placements. Most of their savings come from overheads, management costs and freezing vacancies.
Labour-run Slough is reducing foster carers allowances and closing a local nursery – just months after voting to increase councillor allowances.
Yet Lib Dem-run Portsmouth has had a larger budget cut and is keeping all libraries, museums, play centres and youth centres open and is investing £4.5m in adult social care and health.
All over the country, councils run by different parties are all having to deal with the financial mess left to us by Labour.
And in many cases, they are doing so in coalitions.
In some places, like Reading, Liberal Democrats are in coalition with the Conservatives.
In other places, like Solihull, Liberal Democrats are in coalition with the Labour Party.
And in Bristol, before the Liberal Democrats took over, the council was run by Labour with the support of the Conservatives and the Greens.
Of course, in national government the Liberal Democrats are working together with the Conservatives.
Working together in the national interest does not mean we agree on everything.
And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be taking the fight to the Tories in the local elections.
When the Conservatives are making local decisions that we wouldn’t make, we should say so.
When the Conservatives have local priorities that aren’t our priorities, we should say so.
When the Conservatives are making mistakes locally, we should say so.
Like in Somerset, where the Conservatives rejected a Liberal Democrat proposal to use their reserve money to protect libraries and other services.
Like in Cumbria, where the Conservatives rejected a Liberal Democrat amendment that would have protected subsidised bus services.
Across the country, Conservative and Labour councils are closing libraries and SureStart children’s centres.
If you value these services then my message to you is clear. Liberal Democrats are on your side.
Liberal Democrat councillors value these services too. That is why we are not closing a single SureStart centre and, where we are in a majority, we are not closing a single library.
As we approach the local elections we do so with pride.
Our councillors up and down the country are proving that even in tough times we can do great things.
We are making difficult decisions with compassion and intelligence, keeping pain to a minimum and protecting the people who need the most help.
Liberal Democrats are protecting the services you value the most.
That is why our councillors are not closing a single SureStart children’s centre.
And, where we are in a majority, we are not closing a single library.
The values we have shown in local government are the same that we are showing day in and day out in national government.
They are the same values that mean we are lifting the poorest workers out of Income Tax and giving 23m people on low and middle incomes a £200 tax cut.
They are the same values that mean we are investing extra money in schools for the most disadvantaged children.
They are the same values that mean we are giving pensioners a meaningful rise in their pensions every year.
And they are the same values that mean we are investing in apprenticeships, supporting businesses and helping to create jobs across the whole country.
Liberal Democrats run some of the best, most effective and compassionate councils in the country.
Because our councillors work hard day in and day out to put you first.
Liberal Democrats, in local government and national government, are showing that we are on your side.