THE under-fire leader of Newcastle Council yesterday insisted it was business as usual as he took his cuts fight to the heart of Whitehall.
Nick Forbes made the funding pitch to civil servants and ministers less than 24 hours after those campaigning to save libraries heard angry claims he is “trying to cut as much as possible”.
The council leader avoided entering into a battle of words with playwright Lee Hall, insisting instead he was “just getting on with the job.”
In his Whitehall meetings Mr Forbes again raised the funding settlement which sees the North East lose out substantially, while wealthier councils in the South see their cuts reduced.
His repeated lobbying against the city’s, and the region’s, funding settlement has won him no friends in Government, while Mr Forbes’s direct manner of attacking the cuts has also seen him accused of upsetting the very people he should be persuading.
Yesterday, Mr Forbes was involved in both a Newcastle-specific meeting with spending chiefs and a wider lobbying effort by the UK’s biggest cities.
The Labour leader said he was intent on fighting the £100m cuts and cost pressure package facing the council in a battle which has seen him come in for criticism nationally by senior Conservatives and their supporters.
Speaking to The Journal, Mr Forbes said: “We had a good chance today to make our case.
“The minister was in listening mode, he wanted to hear our case and asked for follow-up documents setting out in more detail the way we have been disadvantaged.
“For example, we wanted to make clear that in, say, the New Homes Bonus, we lose a lot of money to pay for the housing market in the South, that the scheme is not appropriate to the North East.
“It was a productive meeting. I’m not going to say it will solve all our problems but at least he was prepared to listen as I impressed upon him the severity of the case in Newcastle.
“Hopefully, now he is at least aware of the consequences of his decisions.
“I’m not expecting miracles, we’ll see when the figures are confirmed later this year.”
Asked to comment on Mr Hall’s claims that the council leader was deliberately setting out to be a “Tory henchman”, Mr Forbes said he did not wish to comment directly on the accusations made against him.
“I seem to be being criticised for standing up for the city and criticised for not fighting hard enough for it,” Mr Forbes said.
“My job is to speak up for Newcastle, to meet with Government, to maintain a working relationship with Government, among a whole range of departments.
“That doesn’t mean I do not have serious concerns about the consequences of these cuts facing our city. I think I have a robust record of standing up for Newcastle and of challenging ministers head-on over this.
“I know there is a huge amount of anger about these cuts, no one could doubt that, but when you look at what has happened, at how the North East is losing money despite its needs, you would surely say that the anger should be directed against a Government that has unfairly decided to target Newcastle.”