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Election battle hots up in West

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 30, 2013

  • David Cameron is greeted by the chairman of Frame Homes, Bob Pepper, on an election campaign visit to Cornwall

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David Cameron brought the Conservative council election campaign to the Westcountry yesterday – raising hopes the region's new nuclear power station will go ahead and clashing with Liberal Democrats on council tax.

Mr Cameron, who began his tour in Penzance and headed east to Somerset, angered some Lib Dems at a stop off in Redruth when he claimed a council tax freeze by the unitary Cornwall Council was "only there because of the Conservatives".

Click here to see a gallery of the Prime Minister's visit to Cornwall.

In fact the measure was proposed by the Liberal Democrats as an alternative to a 1.97% rise put forward by the Conservative leader of Cornwall Council, Jim Currie.

The Prime Minister's statement on council tax came during a visit to a leading timber frame manufacturer. Later, at a stop off at the Morrisons Distribution Centre in Bridgwater, he said Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station, dogged by arguments over Government nuclear subsidy, was nevertheless likely to get the go-ahead.

He told 200 workers gathered for a question and answer session: "We want it to go ahead. It's going to be great for investment.

"I am confident it will happen and be the start for something very big for Somerset."

Mr Cameron also raised the hopes of farmers hit by devastating flooding last year – particular on the Somerset Levels – that farmland could become a priority for flood prevention in future.

Wells MP Tessa Munt has called for farmland to be added to the Environment Agency's list of priorities following last year's devastating floods. Mr Cameron said: "I am happy to look at how we set out the Environment Agency's priorities."

Afterwards Bridgwater MP Ian Liddell-Grainger said he will now invite Environment Secretary Owen Paterson down to talk with locals about the issues. "We need to talk about exactly what is going on," he said.

Earlier, speaking in Cornwall, Mr Cameron highlighted the role played by local leaders in supporting a freeze in council tax for a third year in a row in February. However Deputy leader of Cornwall Council's Liberal Democrat group, Alex Folkes, who proposed the zero tax, said that while it was true that without some Conservative support the proposal would not have been voted through, it remained a Liberal Democrat budget.

The Prime Minister, played down a question about the threat posed by UKIP, saying it was up to the voters who they chose. "I think the most important thing is value for money and there wouldn't be a council tax freeze in Cornwall if it wasn't for the Conservatives," he said.

"In terms of helping people who want to work hard and want to get on and do the right thing, struggling to pay bills, a council tax freeze is absolutely up there as the key issue at this election and its only there because of the Conservatives.

"There is a clear choice at this election, you can elect the Conservatives to the council, and you will get more of what we've been pushing, a council tax freeze, good value for money, keeping your bills down, helping the Cornish economy, that's what matters at this election and that's what the Conservatives stand for.

The Liberal Democrat proposal of a £526million budget for 2013-14 was passed by 52 voted to 49 in February.

The decision to go against the 1.97% rise put forward by the cabinet, led by Conservative Jim Currie, was dogged by controversy, with some Conservative members stepping down from the party claiming it would affect frontline services.

But Mr Folkes said the decision would cut back on waste and save householders between £20 and £70. He said: "The Conservative leader of the council actually wanted a rise, he voted to carry on paying agency staff, and wasting money.

"We proposed the freeze and not just that, we said we should invest in roads, and infrastructure, and that's what some of the conservatives voted for. If they had voted against it, it wouldn't have gone through, but it was a Liberal Democrat budget that was voted through." Mr Cameron's visit to the Westcountry began in Penzance yesterday morning when he met the Penzance Town team, made up of local business leaders brought together by the Portas Pilot scheme.

He then moved on Frame Homes UK in Redruth, where he was joined by Conservative group leader Ms Fiona Ferguson and local MP George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) Mr Eustice said: "Our challenge is to remind people we have frozen council tax for three years, ring-fenced and protected adult services."

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg was also in Somerset yesterday visiting Taunton as Lib Dems fight to win back control of the county from the Tories.

Mr Clegg was at Taunton Fire Station where he was briefed about proposed Devon and Somerset Fire Authority cuts which could see one of two fire engines currently manned by full-time staff change to retained crew.

Liberal Democrats want a rethink by the Conservative-controlled Authority which approved a 1.99 per cent council tax rise. Mr Clegg accused Conservatives at Somerset County Council of:

"Spending millions of pounds on a makeover of county council offices, including £36,000 on a pond while at the same time asking the fire service here to accept a 50 per cent cut."

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  • Big_Ger  |  April 30 2013, 11:09AM

    "Alex Folkes, who proposed the zero tax." Oh, the irony of that is just fantastic, my laugh aloud moment of the morning!!