UK Politics

David Cameron row with Conservative leader of local council

A picture of rural Oxfordshire
Image caption Oxfordshire has a Conservative run county council

David Cameron is involved in a row with the Conservative leader of his local county council over cuts to services.

The PM has written to Oxfordshire council leader Ian Hudspeth saying he is "disappointed" at proposed "cuts to frontline services, from elderly day centres, to libraries, to museums".

The council should "move cautiously in setting out its budget plans", he says.

In response Mr Hudspeth reminds Mr Cameron he "worked hard to assist you in achieving a Conservative majority".

Mr Cameron is the MP for Witney in Oxfordshire, an area covered by Oxfordshire County Council.

Labour has written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood suggesting the prime minister's letter may have breached the ministerial code, because Mr Hudspeth was invited to meet the No 10 policy unit regarding budget cuts.

Shadow minister without portfolio Jon Ashworth said the code requires ministers to "keep separate their roles" in government and as constituency members.

He said the leader of Mr Cameron's constituency county council "should not be given preferential treatment", and asked whether similar offers have been made to all the leaders of other councils.

'Slight fall'

In his letter, the prime minister attempts to reassure his local colleague, pointing out that the money councils get from central government will not be confirmed until after the Spending Review later this month.

In his lengthy letter of response, Mr Hudspeth disagrees with a series of claims made in the prime minister's letter - including a suggestion that Oxfordshire County Council was failing to make back office savings and had actually seen an increase in its budget.

The county council leader points out that the authority employs almost 3,000 fewer people than it did in 2010.

He adds that the council's grants from government have fallen from £194m a year in 2009/10 to £122m this year.

"I cannot accept your description of a drop in funding of £72m... as a 'slight fall'" he writes.

Mr Hudspeth points out that in addition to the spending cuts the council has had to deal with, the demands upon it have been growing, given the "heightened awareness and concern around vulnerable children" since the Baby P case in Haringey in north London, and "the growth in the elderly population - who generate the largest demand for expensive social care placements and support".

McDonnell's welcome

Last night, Oxfordshire County Council's cabinet agreed to cut £3.7m in subsidies to bus companies in the county. The subsidies currently help ensure "low use routes" remain viable.

Such routes are often in rural areas - such as the prime minister's Witney constituency.

A spokeswoman for the prime minister said: "There is still significant scope for sensible savings across local government to be made by back office consolidation, disposing of surplus property and joining up our local public services; we will be discussing with Oxfordshire how this can be taken forward to help protect frontline services."

For Labour, shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC: "I'm backing David Cameron on this one, he is absolutely right that his chancellor's cuts to local government are seriously damaging our communities and have to be opposed.

"I welcome the prime minister as another Tory MP joining our campaign against George Osborne's cuts."

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