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David Cameron goes on cuts offensive during North East visit

Richard Moss | 17:39 UK time, Wednesday, 20 April 2011

David Cameron

The Prime Minister came to Darlington to persuade North East voters to elect Conservative councillors.

A year ago, David Cameron was trying to persuade the North East to vote for a Conservative government. (That didn't completely go to plan).

Twelve months on and he was back in the region to convince voters to elect Conservative councils.

But the message to an invited audience in Darlington was very similar. Good government, he said, costs less under the Conservatives.

And this was very much a Prime Minister on the offensive.

Cuts could well be the Tories achilles heel in these elections. Voters in council polls usually punish the sitting government - and the cuts have given David Cameron's opponents plenty of ammunition.

But the PM tried to turn cuts to his party's advantage.

Conservative councils, he said in his speech, were cutting waste not front line services.

Contrast that, he pointed out, with Labour councils, who he accused of damaging services while leaving executive pay alone.

He pointed the finger at Sunderland Council too, highlighting trips had taken to the United States.

He said the authority spent £25,000 to fund seven trips to Washington DC, for what the council described as "friendship agreement activities".

"Or what the rest of us call a party," he added.

That's a charge firmly denied by Sunderland Council though.

It says the trips were about attracting inward investment and jobs to the city.

And it says many of the people who went were business representatives and not councillors.

The council says the agreement has already seen one US company invest in Sunderland, while similar visits have helped generate thousands of jobs.

And Labour says the PM can't complain, given that his recent congtroversial trip to the Middle East was also about attracting overseas investment into the UK, and generating business for arms companies.

Labour's Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell also accused Mr Cameron of "not living in the real world", saying it was the pace and scale of government cuts that were causing councils problems.

She said communities were being damaged by the Coalition.

And what of the Lib Dems?

The PM was keen to take credit for the investment he said the Government had put into the North East from the Regional Growth Fund, and enterprise zones.

That's something the Lib Dems would like a slice of the credit for too.

But their Redcar MP Ian Swales says it's also important for voters to focus on local issues. He says if they do that, they will see that Lib Dem councils and councillors are delivering well in communities across the North East.

David Cameron and Daniel Dennis

12-year-old Stockton schoolboy Daniel Dennis plucks up the courage to ask the PM about cuts to the Tees Valley music service.

Mind you, there was no getting away from cuts for the Prime Minister.

As he left Darlington, he was approached by 12-year-old Stockton schoolboy Daniel Dennis. Not old enough to vote, but bold enough to ask about cuts to the Tees Valley Music Service that provides him and other children with lessons.

The PM promised to get back to him.

But David Cameron will hope the people who can vote in the region took in his message.

Although the polling stations don't open until 5 May, this is a critical week in the campaign as people begin filling in their postal votes.

It seems unlikely that the Conservative will make sweeping gains here this time round, but the PM will hope his intervention can win over some of the waverers.



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