West Devon MP Geoffrey Cox urges fellow Tory, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, to "temper his language"
STRAIGHT-TALKING Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has been urged to "temper his language" in his criticism of councillors by one of his own MPs.
The Cabinet Minister, who is renowned for his blunt no-nonsense style, was told by Geoffrey Cox for Torridge and West Devon that his comments were sometimes misunderstood.
Councillors "need to be loved and not always criticised" said the Conservative MP.
Mr Pickles has angered council leaders by repeatedly criticising the way town halls are run, accusing them of waste and 'bleating' about funding cuts.
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This was heightened when the Secretary of State published a booklet listing '50 ways to save money' for councils at the same time as announcing a further local government spending squeeze.
His continual targeting of councils has led to him being accused of "gunboat diplomacy".
Mr Cox made the plea as he highlighted the financial plight facing district councils in his constituency.
The latest funding settlement posed an "existential threat" to the authorities, he said.
West Devon had to slash £1.4 million from a budget of £7.5 million over the next three years, despite already having made significant savings, including from sharing back-office services.
Mr Cox told the Commons: "It has no serious revenue asset base; its council tax is already at a high level and it has been obliged to disobey the strictures of the Secretary of State by failing to freeze council tax."
The MP said he appreciated the Secretary of State's "robust style" adding: "Government Members love him; we think he is an asset to the Conservative party and to the Government.
"However, I plead with him: could he temper his language just a little? There are hundreds of good Conservative councillors up and down the length and breadth of the country who from time to time listen to his words and misunderstand.
"The truth is, however, that those Conservative councillors – and other councillors – need to be loved and not always criticised."
In unusually stark remarks on the funding situation, Mr Cox went on: "I say to Ministers on the Front Bench that we cannot go on fudging and dodging the issue.
"These small district and borough councils are facing a serious threat, and I urge ministers to take it as seriously as it deserves."
Responding, Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis argued the settlement was fair to both rural and urban communities.
Changes had been made to the way cash was shared out.
"As a result, funding per head is falling by less in predominantly rural authorities than in predominantly urban authorities, in all classes."