THE spending cuts in George Osborne’s spending review this month will undermine his claim that he is building a northern economic powerhouse, according to Tim Farron.
The Liberal Democrat leader claimed the Conservatives had “betrayed” voters in the North who played a key role in putting them in Government as David Cameron’s party held on to a host of key marginal seats.
The Chancellor has set out a vision to turn the North into a “powerhouse” that can reduce the country’s economic dependence on the South-East.
But Mr Farron claimed the Government spending cuts Mr Osborne will announce later this month will expose the reality behind those claims.
He said: “One of the reasons the northern powerhouse is a sham and a failure is because this Government are now so obsessed with making sure that we reduce the size of the state that we are therefore not investing in the rail services that we need, in the housing that we need, the green energy we need, the broadband we need.
“Whilst the Labour Party is completely wrong-footed, completely in denial that the deficit needs to be reduced, cleared and to balance the books, George Osborne is mistaking the need to make sure you balance the books on your day to day expenditure with having to at the same time not invest in capital expenditure.”
The Chancellor has repeatedly criticised the last Labour government for not ‘fixing the roof while the sun is shining’ but Mr Farron argued Mr Osborne is in danger of ignoring his own mantra.
“I would say when there is a zero per cent interest rate that is absolutely the time to fix the roof, building homes, building better rail links.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the North who really believes the Tories meant what they said about the northern powerhouse.
“When we have a spending round coming up where they expect to make 30 per cent cuts in key departments I’m afraid the North can’t expect anything other than to be betrayed by the Conservatives.,” he said.
The Lib Dems were the driving force behind the Coalition government’s move to shift powers from Whitehall to cities and regions.
But Mr Farron, who was visiting the Leeds North West constituency of Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland today, was cautious about the series of devolution deals struck with parts of the North since the election.
All the agreements, including one struck with the Sheffield City Region group of authorities, include the mandatory introduction of elected mayors.
“I think that the devolution deals on the table are still with merit, it reflects still at least some intention to devolve resource and power to local communities.
“What I worry about is central government is attaching far too may conditions and this seems, I’m afraid, more about trying to devolve responsibilty for making cuts to local communities.”
He continued: “My general view is that elected mayors centralise power in one individual, they personalise politics, they actually are bad for the diversity of communities.
“For central Government to say you can only have devolution if you accept a mayor seems to me to not understand devolution.
“If you want to devolve power it has to be on the basis of what the folks of Yorkshire, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, what those communities decide and not what London decides they must have.”