Miliband urges voters to send out strong message against cuts

LABOUR leader Ed Miliband is urging voters to use next month’s council elections to express their opposition to the Coalition’s programme of cuts as the party bids to win hundreds of seats.

After launching his party’s local election campaign, Mr Miliband headed straight to Sheffield where Labour is hoping to seize control of the council from the Liberal Democrats in Nick Clegg’s adopted city.

And Labour’s election co-ordinator Andy Burnham, the Shadow Education Secretary, was in York where the party hopes the unpopularity of being in power will also see the Lib Dems losing control of an authority where they hold just one seat more than Labour.

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With councils across the country having recently announced millions of pounds worth of cuts because of falls in Government funding, Labour hopes to benefit by pinning the blame on the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, claiming two-adult households with children are facing a £182 hit on services in 2011/12 as a result.

However, Tories and Lib Dems will point to a council tax freeze being adopted by every local authority this year and will insist the cuts are only necessary because of Labour left the economy in a poor state.

Speaking at a primary school in Birmingham, Mr Miliband said “concerned citizens” should use the elections to oppose the Government’s response to the challenges facing Britain.

Addressing an audience which included school children, trade unionists and Labour councillors, Mr Miliband said: “This is a very important moment for our country because these elections offer the first nationwide test of the direction in which this government is taking the country.

“This election is about cuts but it’s about something deeper than cuts – it’s about the values that we have as a society and it’s about what we want for our country.

“Let’s fight these elections as if they were a General Election because they have that much importance to the future of our country.”

Despite putting on a brave face in public, Ministers privately accept both governing parties are likely to lose significant numbers of seats this year. During Labour’s years in power, it was almost wiped off the local government map in all but its heartlands, meaning that even if the party wins large numbers of seats next month it may still be forced to form coalitions to control town halls.

Much of the national attention will be focused on Sheffield because of Mr Clegg’s status as Sheffield Hallam MP. The Lib Dem-led authority has been praised by Ministers for limiting the impact of cuts, although Labour politicians have launched a bitter attack claiming more severe cuts have simply been delayed until after the election in a desperate attempt to hold onto power.

A third of the 84 council seats are up for grabs, with the Lib Dems currently holding 41, Labour 40, with two Greens and one Independent. The Lib Dems’ hold of Hull City Council will also be tested, while dozens of other seats across the region are also up for grabs on May 5.

Mr Miliband repeated his charge that the Government was cutting “so far and so fast” they are putting vital services at risk and said: “I want Labour in these council elections to be your voice in tough times.”

But Baroness Warsi, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, said: “Conservative councils not only deliver better services but cost £43 a year less per family than Labour-controlled councils and £114 a year less than Liberal Democrat councils.

“Labour councils charge higher council taxes and deliver worse services.

“And at a national level, while we are taking tough action on the deficit, we’ve also managed to freeze council tax in the face of opposition from Labour.

“Labour maxed out the nation’s credit card and left our children and grandchildren to pick up the bill. The message at these local elections is clear – don’t let Labour do to your council what they’ve done to our country.”