Clegg hits back at the Tories: I never agreed to new childcare ratios

The Deputy PM says it is "flatly wrong" to say he approved the changes and that the coalition only agreed to a consultation.

It is less the fact of Nick Clegg's decision to veto looser childcare ratios and more the manner of it that has enraged the Conservatives. The Tories are briefing that Clegg signed off on the changes back in January only to reverse his position in order to curry favour with his party. As in the case of the NHS reorganisation and the boundary changes, this was another Lib Dem U-turn. 

But on his weekly LBC phone-in show, Call Clegg, the Deputy PM said it was "flatly wrong" to claim that he had ever approved the changes. "What we agreed at the time was that we would consult on these proposals," he said. 

"If you have an idea, which is controversial, listen to what the people involved say and then make a decision on it. What's the point of making policy if we don't listen to people it will affect?"

Since the consultation found that most parents' groups thought "this was a bad idea" and that there was "no real evidence" that this would cut childcare costs, Clegg argued that his response was the only appropriate one. 

It is one thing for the Tories and the Lib Dems to disagree over policy, as they do in the case of Europe, a mansion tax and the snooper's charter, but that they are now at odds over process, too, shows how dysfunctional the coalition has become. 

David Cameron and Nick Clegg visit Wandsworth Day Nursery on 19 March 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.