Candidates clash over cutbacks

Councillor Claire Wright and East Devon MP Hugo Swire

Councillor Claire Wright and East Devon MP Hugo Swire - Credit: Archant

The pre-election war of words has begun after independent candidate Claire Wright accused incumbent Tory MP Hugo Swire of ‘not standing up’ for East Devon.

Mr Swire hit back accusing her of ‘generating sensationalist headlines without looking at the hard facts’.

Yesterday (Thursday), county chiefs voted on £50million of cuts over the next year.

And last week Mrs Wright accused Mr Swire of voting for ‘crippling’ government cuts to council funding in 2011.

Up to 2015, the Government, in which Mr Swire is a minister, said it would cut council funding by 28 per cent.

This, she said, was compounded when Mr Swire ‘failed to speak up’ against county plans to slash its spending further during a debate ahead of today’s vote.

Mrs Wright said that Mr Swire’s website said he would ‘speak up and vote for the people of East Devon’. She added: “During the debate Mr Swire was unable to find his voice to defend those who will be severely affected by the latest cuts.

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“He [originally] voted in favour of the crippling cuts to Devon County Council (DCC) and was silent during this debate.

“Is it any wonder that thousands are asking ‘how are we all in this together’?”

She accused him of being a ‘mute minister’ and said: “Action, not meaningless words, is required.

“You have consistently ignored your constituents and the problems in East Devon, many of which have been created by the Conservative-led East Devon District Council (EDDC).

“Mr Swire, your actions are regarded...[as being] cowardly and callously indifferent to local people’s needs.”

Mr Swire criticised the ‘personal attacks’, and said that DCC’s and EDDC’s ‘spending power’ was up 0.6 per cent and 2.7 per cent respectively this year. He added: “That is a good deal for East Devon, especially considering that this government is still having to clear up the economic mess left by Labour.”

There will be further government cuts to councils this year - and he said it ‘might be unavoidable’ that it would impact on the ability of authorities to improve people’s lives.

“Every bit of the public sector needs to do its bit to pay off the deficit, including local government, which accounts for a quarter of all public spending,” he said.

“Although savings have to be made [government] has aimed to deliver a settlement that is fair to all parts of the country.”

Mr Swire said councils could cut spending through joint working, cutting waste, collecting unpaid taxes, tackling fraud, and better property management.

He added:“Maybe Mrs Wright should start concentrating her efforts in these areas before charging on a wild and imaginary headline-grabbing spending spree.

“The truth is that net current expenditure by councils has risen in cash terms under this government, they have not fallen as Mrs Wright has suggested.”