Clegg: Debate is ‘no challenge’

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NICK Clegg told The Star he will use his speech at tonight’s opening rally of the Lib Dem Spring Conference to praise the achievements of his party colleagues on Sheffield Council.

“No libraries or facilities have closed and the number of jobs lost has been tiny compared with elsewhere”, said the Sheffield Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister.

He said he regards the Lib Dem-run authority as an “example” to other areas in its implementation of the budget cuts.

Mr Clegg highlighted how the council has also been able to invest in other areas, such as setting aside a fund to reopen post offices closed over the last few years.

Yesterday afternoon he reopened one branch, at the RED Convenience Store on Ecclesall Road South at Parkhead - one of two post offices being reopened with council funding.

Mr Clegg said it was “very much his decision” to bring the conference to Sheffield.

He added: “I am so keen to do my best as a party leader and Deputy Prime Minister to show what Sheffield has to offer.

“Although I was not born here, I love this city and want us to show it off - it has so many attractions and strengths.

“I’m not going to apologise to anyone for bringing the event here. It means thousands of people visiting who have never been before who will be using the hotels, going shopping, and using the museums, theatres and restaurants.”

Turning to the potential for grassroots rebellions during the conference, he said: “I do not regard it as a challenge - the conference is an opportunity for democratic debate.

“Conferences of Labour and the Conservatives are almost North Korean in how they are constructed, whereas we are open and democratic.”

Some sting may have been taken out of grassroots Lib Dems’ anger after the coalition dropped plans to cut benefits to people who have been jobless for more than a year, and pledged not to axe mobility allowance paid to severely disabled people.

Motions criticising both plans had been drafted for the spring conference.

Despite public anger over broken promises and abandoned pledges such as student fees, Mr Clegg said Lib Dems were “delivering in four key areas” - reform of the voting system, reforming taxes to raise the threshold for income tax so low-earners pay less, restoring the link between pensions and earnings, and boosting the economy.

He said new figures show British manufacturing performance is at its strongest for 16 years.

He added: “On fees we were stuffed, but we made sure the new system would be fairer than under Labour and under the Conservatives alone. Our manifesto was for if there had been a Lib Dem government - but we did not win.

“People who enter a coalition have to make compromises. We’ve just imposed a tax on banks which will bring in four times more than Labour’s planned one-off tax on bankers’ bonuses.”

He added he “knew it was always going to be tough” in Government but “we inherited a disastrous situation and there was no short cut”.

Mr Clegg said Labour’s plans for smaller cuts to reduce the national debt more slowly would lead to it taking much longer to pay off.

“We want to pay off the debt within this parliament. Under Labour there would be cuts for years - their legacy would continue for our children and grandchildren.”