Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps has hit out at North East councils hiding behind “claims of Armageddon” to target motorists.
The Tory MP was in the North East as the party pushes for another North East seat in Berwick, and used the occasion to launch an attack on labour councils who complain of “unfair” Government budget reductions.
Mr Shapps, a former local government minister, said he thought it was wrong that councils such as Newcastle and Gateshead have targeted motorists as they seek to cope with the cuts.
The two councils are among many to have pushed up parking costs in their budgets as a way of offsetting costs. Both are also set to put up CCTV cameras in bus lanes to fine drivers who break the rules.
Speaking to The Journal, Mr Shapps said: “I’m very critical of the way Newcastle and others in Tyneside are going about this. I have tracked this very carefully, Newcastle is one of those councils who always says oh, it’s not our fault we have to do this and we have to sting the motorist.
“I don’t agree at all. If you look at the reserves that a council such as Newcastle or Gateshead has, if you look at the money they keep for a rainy day, look at their ability to merge back office, these councils have not gone as far as they can and should be doing that sort of stuff before they even dream of hitting motorists.
“I was a local government minister when we started these cuts, which are there to stop this country going bust, and these councils made it sound like it would be Armageddon. But quite to the contrary, people’s views of councils have risen, even as some council leaders scream and say there is no other way to do this.”
His comments prompted a fierce response from Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes, who said Mr Shapps had put councils in a position where they will soon be ending support services for some elderly people.
Newcastle Council this year passed a three-year budget which will see some £100m taken of council spending, a mixture of cuts and rising costs pressures.
Mr Forbes said: “We are going to start seeing even greater consequences of these cuts over the next three years. Among the most damaging will be that by 2015 we will be forced to restrict access to critical care only for the elderly. That is the year when we will see people who need help to stay in their home turned down for that help as a result of Government cuts.”
In Gateshead, the council defend the parking moves revealed this week in its latest budget proposal.
Nick Clennett, service director at Gateshead Council, said “The appropriate enforcement of bus lanes improves access for people using more sustainable ways of getting around, but there is little point in creating special lanes for buses if we then allow anyone to use them.
“The law-abiding road user has nothing to fear from enforcement.
“The money that we receive from car parking charges helps towards improvements in existing car parks and it is only fair that the motorists who benefit should contribute.”