David Cameron has attacked the scale of cuts to children's centres and libraries in his own constituency, expressing annoyance that these services are under threat during the next round of his government's austerity measures.
The prime minister sent a two-page letter to the leader of Oxfordshire county council setting out his "disappointment" that the local authority was planning "to make significant cuts to frontline services – from elderly day centres, to libraries, to museums".
"This is in addition to the unwelcome and counter-productive proposals to close children's centres across the county," he complained to the council, which runs services in his own Witney constituency,
In response, the leader of the council said the prime minister's understanding of local council funding was "inaccurate".
Further cuts to local council budgets are expected to be announced by chancellor George Osborne in this month's autumn statement as part of a drive to cut the deficit, forcing local councils to draw up plans to make further cuts to services and find new savings.
In the letter, sent in September and leaked to the Oxford Mail, the prime minister strongly criticised the Conservative-run council for failing to find "more creative" ways of saving money such as "making back office savings and protecting the frontline".
The prime minister insisted there had only been "a slight fall in government grants in cash terms" to the council during the last five years, meaning there was little justification for such cuts to frontline services. Instead he put pressure on the council to sell off buildings and share more services with other local authorities, warning the local leader to "move cautiously" before making any dramatic cuts to frontline spending.
But in a leaked six-page response, Ian Hudspeth, the Tory leader of Oxfordshire county council, criticised the prime minister's approach and said there was little left for the council to cut without abandoning some frontline services.
He said the council had already cut thousands of jobs and reduced the number of people it employs by 37% since 2010. He said also that its funding has been cut in real terms, that it is struggling with the growing costs of providing care services to adults and children, and that staff have had below-inflation pay rises for several years.
"I cannot accept your description of a drop in funding of £72m or 37% as a 'slight fall'," wrote Hudspeth.
And he said it was "neither legal, nor sustainable" to use funds from the sale of assets such as building to pay for day-to-day expenditure on services.
Huspeth insisted there were no "easy savings" left to make in the council budget and said all he can do is minimise "reductions in the services people most value".
Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell mockingly celebrated the prime minister's conversion to an anti-cuts agenda, saying: "I'm backing David Cameron on this one. He is absolutely right that his chancellor's cuts to local government are seriously damaging our communities and have to be opposed. I welcome the prime minister as another Tory MP joining our campaign against George Osborne's cuts."
His party have since written to the prime minister to complain that the letter included an offer of advice for Sheridan Westlake, one of Cameron's close advisers. They suggested that if Cameron's local council could benefit from such high-level advice then it should be available to all local authorities facing cuts.
A spokesperson for Cameron said: "There is still significant scope for sensible savings across local government to be made by back-office consolidation, disposing of surplus property and joining up our local public services; we will be discussing with Oxfordshire how this can be taken forward to help protect frontline services."
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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