Local elections 2013: Cameron attacks council 'waste'

media captionDavid Cameron: 'There is a clear moral imperative to keep council tax down'

David Cameron has vowed to eradicate council "waste and propaganda" as he launched his party's campaign for local authority elections next month.

He contrasted what he said were excessive salaries and perks for staff in Labour councils with the "good government" of Tory-run town halls.

Elections will be held for 27 county councils and seven unitary authorities in England on Thursday 2 May.

The Tories are fighting to retain major gains made in these areas in 2009.

Labour, the Lib Dems and UKIP have already begun campaigning for next month's elections - which also include Anglesey in North Wales - while the Green Party also launched their campaign on Friday.

Council tax

During a visit to Warwickshire, the Conservative leader cited Tory councils' decision to freeze council tax for the past three years as evidence that the party was on the side of "hard-working people".

There was a "clear moral imperative" for councils to keep council tax bills down, he said during a speech in Nuneaton.

The government has encouraged local authorities in England to freeze council tax bills by providing central funding to cushion the cut in real-terms income, although a third of the total have rejected the offer.

"Here in Warwickshire they've frozen council tax - this year, last year, the year before that," he said.

"On average, on a Band D bill, Conservative councils continue to charge lower levels of council taxes than Labour or Lib Dems."

And he attacked the record of Labour local authorities, criticising the pay of council managers in Sheffield and suggesting Durham had given their "council chiefs" a £12,000 clothing allowance to spend on "Geordie Armani".

"If you want good government that costs less, vote Conservative," he said. "If you want waste and propaganda, vote Labour. Do not let Labour do to your council what they did to our country."

The prime minister said the government had dismantled "all the bureaucracy" surrounding town halls set up by its Labour predecessor.

"We have given councils much more freedom and it is Conservative councils which have run with it."

Durham County Council said in a statement that the allowance paid to their chairman was not a "clothing allowance" but was "to cover expenses associated with this important ceremonial role".

A council spokesman was unable to give a breakdown of what the allowance had been spent on.

Mr Cameron also used his speech to hail progress on welfare reform, immigration and cutting income tax, saying the coalition government programme of "national renewal" was on track.

In response, Labour said voters faced a real choice at the election between "a failed Tory economic plan which has left nearly a million young people out of work and Labour's plans to grow the economy and guarantee jobs for our young people".

Nearly 2,500 seats are up for grabs in less than two weeks' time in an election that will be closely watched as a barometer of public opinion two years before the scheduled date of the next general election.

Labour gains expected

Labour is expected to make gains as the seats were last fought for in 2009, when Gordon Brown's government was unpopular nationally.

Former Tory local government minister Bob Neill told the BBC's Daily Politics that it would be "very tough" for the Conservatives to defend all the seats they won four years ago and, given Labour's lead in the national opinion polls, the opposition was expected to do "very well".

"This is going to be a tough call for us and I am not going to pretend otherwise. It would be silly if I did not say we are starting from a high base."

Speaking on Friday, Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, also set out her campaign objectives, promising to focus on opposing the government's welfare cuts, supporting low-paid workers and protecting the green belt.

Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has said his party has the "right priorities in tough times" while UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his party is fielding a record number of candidates and would "establish a bridgehead" in county councils across England.

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