Nick Clegg is to sound a critical note against his Tory cabinet colleagues by warning in a speech that the debate about cuts should not become “polarised” between the public sector and the private sector.
The deputy prime minister’s comments at 10am this morning will be seen as a riposte to those Tory ministers who are ideologically keen to see the influence of the state reduced as a result of the deficit reduction programme.
“I know that some of our public sector workers bristle when they hear ministers talk about paring back the public sector,” the Lib Dem leader will say.
“If we play into these bygone caricatures of the left and the right, if we allow our society to fracture into these camps, that is the surest way to drag the UK back to the 1980s.”
Mr Clegg will make the comments as he sets out plans for England’s largest cities to take greater autonomy over their transport systems and housing under a “dramatic shift in power”.
The deputy prime minister and cities minister Greg Clark will offer individual “city deals” to the eight main regional conurbations under which they could each have “one consolidated capital pot to direct as they see fit”.
But Mr Clegg’s speech is likely to attract attention for his defence of government workers who are “making sacrifices” just as those in the private sector are.
The tone is markedly different to the attacks last week by senior Tories against public sector workers who went on strike against the cuts, who were described by David Cameron as “irresponsible and damaging”. It is a recognition that the Lib Dems in the past have depended to some extent on public sector workers for their votes.
Mr Clegg will set out the plans in a speech to the left-leaning IPPR thinktank as he launches a “Unlocking Growth in Cities” document.
The move comes as the government paves the way for 12 English cities to opt for elected mayors next summer in a major devolution drive.
Mr Clegg will repeat the coalition’s promise of localising business rates across the country as well as introducing “tax increment financing” to let councils borrow against these revenues.
The new “city deals” initiative will be offered to Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
Under the proposals, the “Transport for London” model in the capital could be applied elsewhere with a new “Transport for Leeds” or so on.
The initiative also envisages housing and regeneration decisions being taken from the national Homes and Communities Agency and handed down to cities.
“Liberals have always understood that a great nation is built on great cities,” Mr Clegg will say.