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Coalition 'made final decisions'

The final significant decisions of the coalition Government have already been taken, Nick Clegg declared as he warned George Osborne's future plans for the country's economy under a Tory majority would be "deeply regressive and unfair".

The Deputy Prime Minister said discussions over Wednesday's Budget were "pretty well finalised" as he turned his fire on the Chancellor and David Cameron.

Mr Clegg, who has announced that the Budget will include £1.25 billion for child and adolescent mental health services, warned that the future Tory plans would involve cutting "billions more from public services" than were necessary to balance the books.

He backed Business Secretary Vince Cable's assessment that the Tories were prejudiced against "workers, shirkers and burqas".

Acknowleding the coalition was effectively over, even before the dissolution of parliament on March 30, Mr Clegg told the Liberal Democrats' spring conference: "We've got a Budget on Wednesday, which Danny (Alexander) and I have been working on a lot in endless discussions with George Osborne and David Cameron over the last several weeks.

"We pretty well finalised it yesterday in internal discussions. That's in effect the last act of significant decision-making by this coalition Government."

He told activists in Liverpool that his party had succeeded in stopping the Tories implementing their economic strategy over the past five years, claiming it would have left the country poorer and more divided.

Mr Clegg said: "If you listened to George Osborne's speech last autumn at their party conference, he spelt out loud and clear, there was absolutely no ambiguity about it, the kind of macro-economic policy the Conservatives want to pursue on their own.

"Yes, it's radical, but it's also deeply regressive and unfair.

"It's an extraordinarily hardline ideological assertion that only the working age poor should pick up the tab and make any further sacrifices to balance the books. They have to pick up the tab for the mistakes of the bankers."

The Tories would also oppose using the "financial muscle of the state" to invest in infrastructure, he said.

"And they want to cut billions and billions and billions more from public services than is economically necessary even after the deficit has been dealt with.

"That is what we have stopped. They would have done that over the last half a decade.

"They would have done that and we would have been economically poorer and we would have been socially much, much more divided and we stopped that."

But Mr Clegg appeared unable to answer when he was questioned about the single-digit opinion poll ratings endured by his party.

"Anyone who has a perfect answer to that, stick it on a postcard and send it in," he joked.

He insisted that the party would have suffered if it had gone into coalition with either the Tories or Labour in 2010, and acknowledged that it was "highly controversial" in his own Sheffield constituency.

"The very act of going into the first proper coalition in living memory was a highly controversial thing to do. If we had gone into coalition with Labour it would have been highly controversial with lots of centre-right voters in the South West, in the same way that getting into coalition with the Conservatives is highly controversial in anti-Conservative parts of the country, whether it's Sheffield or Scotland or elsewhere."

The party had been forced to take "very difficult, gory and in some cases downright unpopular decisions" in order to start balancing the books.

He said "whatever the reason" behind the poll ratings, "there is only one antidote: and that is to proudly and loudly continue to say what we have done and want to continue to do in the future".

Mr Clegg insisted that the party remained a force where it was able to mount an effective campaign on the doorsteps.

"Here's the good news, whatever the national opinion polls are saying, where we do that on the ground where we can tell our side of the story - because no one else will - the polls look very, very different, much better, we make the weather and we are going to win."

Mr Cable used his speech to accuse Labour of being "anti-business" while attacking the Tories over immigration policy and the Prime Minister's promised referendum on Europe.

He said: "The Tories have a lot of antis. They don't like trades unions. They don't like people dependent on benefits. They don't like multiculturalism. I have called this an attack on workers, shirkers and burqas."

He told activists: "The Tories have a strange, split personality which embraces, on one hand, free market economics and, on the other, nationalism - or, at least, English nationalism.

"A century ago they believed in closing down trade: protectionism. Now they try to throw obstacles in the way of highly skilled Indian software engineers or Brazilian students or Chinese business visitors in order to meet some ludicrous, unobtainable target set for them by Nigel Farage or Migration Watch.

"And their fear of Ukip has led them into the cul-de-sac of the EU referendum: potentially years of uncertainty which will scare off many inward investors who want to retain or bring jobs here for British workers. And if the result is negative or, even, close it will leave Britain in a no-man's land: diminished, marginalised and irrelevant."

The £250 million a year funding for mental health services over the next five years will help more than 100,000 youngsters, Mr Clegg said.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who made the announcement during a visit to Clock View Hospital in Liverpool, said the way children had been treated before was an "institutionalised form of cruelty".

Mr Clegg said: "You have got, on average, three children in every classroom in our country who have got mental health problems and are not being properly catered for, not being properly identified, not being properly supported.

"This huge expansion - £1.25 billion over the course of the next parliament - will help around 110,000 children, children who at the moment are being let down by the system.

"It's an institutionalised form of cruelty, the way we allow vulnerable children with mental health problems to basically have to fend for themselves at the moment.

"This big announcement I'm making is going to seek to change that. It won't happen overnight, it will happen over the coming years."

He added: "It's all part of a journey where we start, as a country, lifting the stigma that has surrounded mental health and making sure that we treat mental health in the same way as we do people with physical health problems."

The funding will also help improve support for new mothers, who had previously struggled with a "second-class mental health service", Mr Clegg said.

"It is terrifying to think that in this day and age some new mothers are having to travel miles for treatment and others are even being separated from their newborn child This has to stop," he said.

"This funding will make sure they get the treatment and support they need so they in turn can give their children the best possible start in life."

Mr Clegg blamed some local NHS commissioners for failing to pass on previous Government funding for children's mental health.

"Along with this extra money we are also saying, and NHS England is saying, to all local commissioners they have to give the right amount of money to mental health," he said.

"We need to have central government, that's providing the money, working hand in glove with local decision-makers so that they don't short-change local mental health trusts.

"It is starting to change now, but I accept it is a big culture change because for far too long people in the NHS have not provided the amount of resources and support to mental health which it deserves."

The funding for children's mental health will help children with conditions such as self-harming, depression and those at risk of committing suicide.

It will help pay for therapy sessions, family support work, better training for clinicians and the development of help via websites and online apps.


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