Harsh words were exchanged at a Manchester City Council executive budget meeting today, with council leader Sir Richard Leese having to defend personal accusations of scaremongering.
Liberal Democrat councillors pointed the finger at Labour leader, remarking that he had deliberately painted a bleaker financial picture of Manchester than it actually is in order to win sympathy with the people of Manchester.
Councillor Simon Wheale was the chief critical Lib Dem voice in the meeting, which discussed the city council’s plans for the budget for 2012-13, as he accused Cllr Leese of ‘rolling together’ unrelated financial statistics for a greater effect on the economic hardships currently being suffered by Manchester.
He said: “The only person who is scaremongering is you. You are misleading the people of Manchester with these distorted statistics.”
Cllr Wheale and fellow Lib Dem councillor Marc Ramsbottom were defending their party from criticism from the council that they had failed to deliver on party promises, as well as refusing to accept the current climate was worse than they depicted for the people of Manchester and beyond.
Indeed, Cllr Leese reacted angrily to the Liberal allegations of scaremongering and exaggerating the situation for political gains.
In a frank speech aimed primarily at Cllr Wheale, he said: “For you to come to a serious meeting such as this and act the way you have done is embarrassing.
“You have embarrassed yourself, you have embarrassed your party and, frankly, you have embarrassed the council.”
The city council leader, amid calls of agreement from his fellow Labour councillors, also accused the present government of favouring the more affluent south, ignoring northern cities such as Manchester and adding to their economic woes.
He said: “You and your party and your government are taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich.”
In a reference to last year’s August riots, he added: “It’s a wonder we don’t see more rioting on the streets, given the performance of the government.”
Cllr Ramsbottom branded that statement as ‘unjust’ and ‘unfair’.
But Cllr Leese added: “If you say to the people of Manchester that their situation is not as bad as it seems, then you are either deceiving yourselves or you are lying to them.”