Don't panic over cuts, says Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg has urged employers not to "panic" into laying off staff as he sought to calm fears over the impact of drastic public spending cuts.
Unions have warned that up to 1.3 million jobs are at risk but the Deputy Prime Minister insisted that next month's spending review - which will slash around a quarter from Whitehall spending - would not result in an "overnight crisis" as it would be phased over five years.
He defended the Government's radical deficit reduction plans as activists at the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool piled fresh pressure on the leader to ensure all cuts imposed by the Tory-led coalition were "fair" on the least well-off.
Mr Clegg pleaded with rank-and-file members to "stick with" him on Monday after he suffered a major rebellion over key coalition school reforms, just hours before his keynote speech, as simmering tensions boiled over.
One angry backbench MP accused him of failing to offer the necessary reassurance to supporters amid slumping poll ratings and said he missed his chance "by a mile" to speak to the concerns of Lib Dem voters across the country.
The Deputy Prime Minister launched a fresh defence of his decision to enter Downing Street with David Cameron as he prepared to cut short his attendance at the annual party gathering to fly to the US on Government business at the United Nations. And he said public fears about the impact of the cuts appeared to have "run ahead of reality".
"It is totally reasonable but because all people hear is 'cuts' and all these scary figures, people think it is going to happen overnight and everything is going to be taken away from them," he told ITV News.
"It is right for me to say: look, it is going to be difficult, I'm not going to deny that, but it is not going to be a sort of overnight crisis. What we are going to do is, over a reasonable period of time - five years - balance the books."
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said energy companies will never again be able to impose "outrageous" price hikes on consumers. Mr Huhne vowed to step in to ensure firms provided up-to-date tariffs for energy users if the regulator Ofgem failed to make them do so.
Speaking ahead of his speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool, he said: "We need to put consumers absolutely at the forefront of what we do on energy policy. So first of all, I want to make sure that the energy companies never again raise prices without telling consumers."