THE leader of Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) has come under fire for suggesting people from the north of England should consider doing menial work usually done by immigrants.
In a debate at the Local Government Association (LGA) executive last Thursday, David Shakespeare, leader of the LGA Conservative group, said people from poorer parts of the country should work collecting fruit if there were no jobs in their areas.
He is reported as saying: "The north may replace the Romanians in the cherry orchards. That may be a good thing."
His comments came during a debate about the prospect of councils being allowed to keep the business rates they collect rather than them being redistributed to poorer areas.
He has since said that the comments were made in jest, and that everyone present at the debate realised that he was joking. But since then, his words have sparked anger.
Leaders of councils in the north of the country have criticised the remarks. There have even been calls for Mr Shakespeare to resign his position.
In a letter to David Cameron, Michael Dugher, MP for Barnsley East, denounced the comments as 'out of touch, insensitive and insulting'.
Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: "To see northerners in this second-class, undermining and disrespectful way is typical for a very southern-orientated political party like the Conservatives."
The Conservative party has not disciplined Mr Shakespeare but a spokesman said: "This is an unacceptable use of language and does not represent the views of the Conservative party."
A spokesman for BCC said: "The comments attributed to David Shakespeare were made at an executive meeting of the Local Government Association, where he is Conservative group leader and LGA vice-chairman, representing local government nationally.
"His role at the LGA is entirely separate from his Buckinghamshire County Council role.
"Councillor Shakespeare's remark was intended to be a humorous response to a Labour LGA member, saying he would send the north's unemployed down to Kent to look for jobs.
"It was not a serious proposal."
Mr Shakespeare said: "I apologise for any unintentional offence it may have caused to anyone who is unemployed."