Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles is refusing to meet the leaders of England’s eight largest cities to discuss their concerns about spending cuts.
Mr Pickles said there was no point in face-to-face talks with leaders including Birmingham’s Sir Albert Bore.
He turned down an invitation which came not just from Sir Albert but also from the leaders of Liverpool, Nottingham, Sheffield, Bristol, Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds.
The cities have joined forces to create a “Cabinet of Core Cities” to try argue for a fair deal for the nation’s largest local authorities.
But the city leaders, including Sir Albert, also say they accept that some spending cuts are needed – and hope to talk to the Government about ways that local government funding can be reformed so councils take more responsibility for raising revenue.
The eight city council leaders first wrote to Mr Pickles on December 18 asking for a meeting. They said in a joint letter: “We want to engage in a genuine and honest dialogue about how to restructure the funding system and implement reforms such as community budgets.”
Writing again on January 31 they set out further ideas such as making adult social care more cost-efficient, and said: “We would again urge you to meet with us all for a full conference at which we can discuss these and other solutions to the financial crisis ahead.”
Birmingham MP Richard Burden (Lab Northfield) took up the issue earlier this month, and wrote to Mr Pickles asking him to meet the city leaders.
But he has now received a reply – not from Mr Pickles himself but from Brandon Lewis, a junior minister in the Department for Local Government and Communities, who wrote: “Thank you for your letter to the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP on February 14... I am responding as this matter falls under my ministerial responsibilities.”
Mr Lewis pointed out that he – although not the Secretary of State – met city council leaders on January 10. And he concluded: “Given that the settlement is now agreed and that the views of the Core Cities on our proposals were duly noted by Ministers I do not feel that a further meeting at this point is necessary.”