Derby campaign to win 'Fair Deal' loses Tory support
THE Tory opposition at Derby City Council has ditched its support for a cross-party campaign calling for a better funding deal for the authority.
Conservative councillors said they originally backed the Fair Deal for Derby Campaign in the belief it would try and address "historical difficulties in Derby's grant settlement".
The Tory group leader, Councillor Philip Hickson, claimed Labour had instead used it as a "party political vehicle" to attack the Coalition Government.
Statistics show that cuts made to Derby's grant total £75 per head of population since 2010 – compared to a national average of £62 per head for similar-sized councils.
And the council says it must save £62 million over the next three years in the face of financial pressures from cuts to funds from Government, inflation, and Derby's growing population.
Mr Hickson said neither the Labour group nor council officers had made a serious attempt to approach Government ministers to discuss the grant settlement and added that his party were upset at Labour plans to spend "thousands of pounds of public money" on advertising for the campaign.
Mr Hickson has now written to Paul Bayliss, leader of the city's Labour group, terminating the Tories' involvement in the campaign.
The letter said: "It has become increasingly clear that the Fair Deal campaign is being used by Labour as a party political vehicle both to attack the Coalition government and to disguise your clear inability to get to grips with the serious budgetary position which faces Derby at this time of fiscal realignment.
"Despite agreeing to support an approach to Government to enter into meaningful discussions about our financial settlement it remains a grave concern to me that no serious attempt has been made by you or officers of the council to arrange a meeting with ministers or civil servants; all that has happened is an increasing display of political grandstanding, some of which has been at taxpayers' expense.
"This is totally unacceptable and demonstrates, I believe, that there is no serious intent on either your own or your group's part to try and make responsible and meaningful representations to Government on behalf of the city."
Mr Hickson said he was aware the city council had made planning applications to put up "banners" on lampposts across the city, advertising the campaign, paid for with city funds.
He said that items in the 2013/14 budget such as grassing over flower beds and cutting funding for environmental group Wild Derby were "vindictive".
The letter says: "You will damage a hard-won reputation for financial competence that Derby has long held.
"This could have been mitigated if the council had effectively lobbied Government to address some of the issues in our grant settlement in the run-up to and before it was announced."
Last week, David Cameron visited Derby and said he did not believe cuts to the city council's grant were unfair compared to other authorities. Mr Hickson said this had nothing to do with his party's change of mind.
Councillor Ranjit Banwait, Labour's deputy leader, said he did not believe this and claimed the Conservative group's heart had never been in the campaign.
He said: "It goes back to when it was first discussed when they supported the campaign but also made grand speeches defending the Government. I'm sure this is all to do with the Prime Minister's visit. They are effectively agreeing with him that Derby is getting a fair deal."
He said accusations that his party was not engaging with ministers were "completely ridiculous".
Mr Banwait said: "Chris Williamson [Labour's Derby North MP] handed the 12,000-name petition into the House of Commons at the end of November and we've heard nothing back. The whole idea of the campaign is to bring the problem to the Government's attention and we've heard nothing."
On the advertising, Mr Banwait said "everything has been done properly".
He said: "The posters are part of a wider campaign. We are trying to prompt the public to get involved, join the campaign for a fair deal and have their say."