Friday, December 28, 2012
A political row between Great Yarmouth’s ruling parties has deepened after the town’s Tory MP accused Labour councillors of “squealing with indignation” over a funding cut he has personally overseen.
But the councillors have retaliated to the comments from Brandon Lewis and said they have been left with a gaping deficit by the previous “incompetent” Tory administration which - along with the coalition’s decision to hack their funding by 19pc - was now forcing them to make stringent savings.
And some residents have also hit back at the under-fire MP claiming he is “more concerned about his party and his position than his constituents” with a senior county council leader calling for him to resign from his post as local government minister.
George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council’s Labour group, described Mr Lewis’ actions as “absolutely extraordinary” and said: “I cannot understand how any self respecting MP can stand there and do this to his own constituency. It beggars belief and it just turns upside down the entire concept of having your local member fighting for you.”
Mr Lewis has been thrown into the spotlight in the wake of the announcement that Yarmouth was facing the biggest funding cut in the country compounded by the scrapping of the transition fund, which was introduced to help the authority prepare for working on a smaller budget.
Mr Lewis said he had “persuaded” the government to introduce the parachute payments to help councils in areas like Yarmouth and hit out at the backlash sparked by the decision to scrap it.
He added: “Labour’s response to the grant ending is to squeal with indignation. Instead of getting their own house into order they want to continue to spend and spend.”
But Yarmouth Borough Council leader Trevor Wainwright was angered by his comments as he said the transition fund, worth £7m, had been squandered by the previous Tory authority. Labour took control of the council in May this year.
He said: “They had the transition money for two years and they didn’t do anything with that, it was just business as usual. They just assumed a magic tie up with Breckland and South Holland (councils to share management) was going to be the saviour of everything, and quite clearly the only identified saving from that was about £160,000. In the scheme of things, that’s peanuts, and there was no plan B.
“We came in in May and identified this huge financial hole and we’re having to deal with it. It’s a legacy of the previous Tory administration.”
The cash-strapped authority has been offered some financial reprieve through the newly introduced efficiency support grant, from which they could receive £1.8m.
But in order to get the cash boost they must agree to share management, a move Labour members have pledged not to do and which was part of their election manifesto, sparking cries they are being blackmailed.
They are now planning on presenting an alternative case to get a share of the grant and Mr Lewis has said he will support them - on condition.
He added: “If Labour councillors stop avoiding the need to make massive changes to backroom operations then they will get my support for additional funding. Councils across the country are taking on this challenge for the benefit of their residents.”
Mr Lewis also hit back at claims he is targeting his own constituents saying he is “honoured” to represent Yarmouth and fought to promote it, but would not be drawn on the calls for him to resign as minister.
He said he hopes the borough council will now work to “deliver the efficiencies” that will help all residents and members will “take advantage of the extra £1.8m they can use for the benefit of Great Yarmouth”.
Mr Wainwright said he and his members were now working to deal with the funding gaps by restructuring the authority, reviewing contracts and coming up with ideas to generate income.
“We’re trying desperately to address the deficit and I’m sure we will but it’s not going to be easy,” he added.