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Eric Pickles accused of trying to 'gag' local councils
7:00am Wednesday 18th December 2013 in News
Eric Pickles has been accused of trying to ‘gag’ local councils critical of his policies, sparking a clash with a Bradford MP.
A new law will prevent town halls arguing that huge Whitehall grant reductions have forced them to make unpopular cuts to services, Labour has protested.
And it could stop them using the term ‘bedroom tax’ it was claimed, which ministers insist must be described as removing the ‘spare room subsidy’.
Labour said the legislation, which was debated by MPs yesterday, will turn Bradford-born Mr Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, into “censor-in-chief”.
Furthermore, it comes ahead of further cuts to council funds – of ten per cent from 2015, on top of the loss of 33 per cent of their grants between 2011 and 2015.
Councillor David Green, Bradford’s Labour leader, has described the city’s future as “desperate” if cuts go ahead on such a scale.
But Mr Pickles has repeatedly denied his grant cuts have forced Bradford, and other councils, to withdraw services.
Gerry Sutcliffe, Labour MP for Bradford South, said he was worried the Local Government Secretary was trying to stifle dissent. He said: “This not about local democracy, this is about central control. Councillors of all parties should be concerned about this Bill.”
The row blew up over a clause inserted into the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, giving Mr Pickles fresh powers over information produced by town halls.
The Local Government Secretary has accused some councils of flouting a voluntary code designed to ensure “objectivity” in their publicity for residents. Therefore, he is introducing legislation to prevent “political points” being made on posters, or in council free sheets put through letterboxes, for example.
A spokesman for Mr Pickles said he was attempting to prevent councils publishing “political propaganda”.
He said: “They are quite free, providing they use their own or their party funds to do so, to issue publicity, or to come together with other parties to mount a publicity campaign.
“What they are not allowed to do is to spend taxpayers’ money to campaign with a message designed to influence voters about Government policies.”
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