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Budget cuts could test Liberal Democrat unity

By Kylie Morris

Updated on 19 June 2010

With David Cameron again repeating that the public sector will bear the brunt of the pain in next week's budget, Kylie Morris asks how the Liberal Democrat party will respond.

David Cameron, prime minister, ahead of Tuesday's budget

Tuesday's budget aims to eliminate the bulk of Britain's deficit within five years - and the government has warned that it is the day when "the rubber hits the road".

We already know there will be higher taxes and brutal cuts to public services. And today David Cameron again warned public sector pay, pensions and benefits will be targeted.

Liberal Democrat faithful rolled up to the capital today, only three days before the budget that will have their party's fingerprints all over it.

But there is no room for baggage in this brave new world. Tuesday's budget may contradict key Liberal Democrat promises undertaken before the election – many of them made by Nick Clegg, the party leader.

The deputy prime minister gave no detail on what cuts would come. But his boss, the prime minister, was more forthcoming.

Before stepping out with the French president yesterday, David Cameron warned that the public sector will bear the pain.

Quoted in today's Times newspaper, David Cameron says: "There are three large items of spending that you can't ignore, and those are public sector pay, public sector pensions, and benefits.

"You just think: what planet are they living on?"

Today the country’s largest civil service unions expressed concerns their workers will bear the brunt of the cuts.

"We think it's best to grow the economy. The quickest way to get public expenditure down is to reduce unemployment, not to put people on the dole," Hugh Lanning, of the Public and Commercial Services Union, told Channel 4 News.

"We'll literally have people in Work & Pensions going from one side of the counter, where they're paying taxes, to the other side, where they're being paid welfare.

"That can't be the right way forward."

Aspiring Labour leaders also warn about putting people on the wrong side of the jobs counter.

Ed Balls told Channel 4 News: "I'm fearful about this budget. I think it will be an unemployment budget which will put unemployment up, not down – and that's actually the way to make the deficit worse, not better."

The government last week decided to pull out of the £80m loan to Sheffield Forgemasters to build a 15,000-tonne press to make parts for the nuclear industry.

It's Liberal Democrat heartland. The local MP is Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The leader of the council admits people are feeling raw."

Paul Scriven, the Liberal Democrat leader of Sheffield City Council, told Channel 4 News: "While it's difficult and while it's painful in Sheffield, I think as long as we can see in the long run this will actually work for the benefit of the country and that people can and do move forward and there is a sense of fairness, people over a couple of years will have to judge rather than on the first difficult announcements that have been made."

"It’s a difficult period of time and there are going to be some difficult decisions," said Tim Pickstone, chief exeucitve of the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors.

"'I'm sure that Nick and his team will be making sure that it's a good Liberal Democrat difference as well."

Mr Clegg will have to watch his step, with his party faithful demanding a Liberal Democrat sense of fairness and his government declaring, come Tuesday, the rubber really hits the road.

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