Clegg warns over cuts backlash
Nick Clegg has sought to calm public fears over deep spending cuts but admitted the coalition was likely to suffer a bitter backlash.
The Deputy Prime Minister appeared to soften the Government's rhetoric by stressing that departmental reductions of up to 25% would be staggered over four years.
Although people were understandably anxious, they should not feel there was a "sword of Damocles" that would fall overnight, he added.
Mr Clegg issued his plea against panic with just six weeks to go until the results of an unprecedentedly tough Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) are revealed.
His comments came as research for the BBC suggested the north of England and the Midlands would be hardest hit by cuts. The study by Experian predicted Middlesbrough would be the worst-affected town, followed by Mansfield, in Nottinghamshire, and Stoke-on Trent.
Mr Clegg conceded there was still a danger that sharp reductions in expenditure would hamper the bounce-back from recession, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme people should be braced for a "choppy and uneven" recovery.
However, he stressed cuts would begin next April and be spread over four years, meaning they would average around 6% annually. Labour had proposed reducing spending at four-fifths that rate, he added.
"While I totally understand people's anxiety, I don't think we should aggravate that anxiety by pretending there is a sword of Damocles coming down straight away," the DPM added.
Asked about the research on the Today programme, Mr Clegg insisted the economy had to be "rebalanced" in areas that were over-reliant on the public sector. That meant boosting private sector jobs to replace public sector jobs, through measures such as the Government's £1 billion regional growth fund and national insurance breaks for firms in certain regions, he said.
Delivering a speech at the Institute for Government in London, Mr Clegg conceded that the coalition was running "significant political risks" by cutting so sharply, but had to rise above day-to-day bad headlines in order to secure the long-term future of the country.