A HIGH-PROFILE local government politician has been criticised after claiming people in the north should do the work of immigrants.

David Shakespeare, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council and the Local Governement Association's (LGA) Conservative group, said people from poorer parts of the country should work collecting fruit if there are no jobs available.

"The north may replace the Romanians in the cherry orchards," he said. "That may be a good thing."

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His comments came during a debate at the LGA's Executive about the prospect of councils being allowed to keep the business rates they collect rather than being redistributed to poorer areas.

LGA chairman Baroness Margaret Eaton immediately rebuked Coun Shakespeare for his "horrible" comment.

Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, tonight reacted angrily to the news, claiming it was disrespectful to regard northern people in this way.

He said: "These types of comment prove (David) Cameron hasn't reformed his party one bit.

"To see northerners in this second class, undermining and disrespectful way is typical for a very southern orientated political party like the Conservatives.

"The Tory party certainly can't claim to be the party of one nation."

Rob Light, leader of the Conservative group on Kirklees Metropolitan Council and also an LGA Executive member, said after the meeting: "I think it clearly was a comment that could be misinterpreted.

"I'm assured it's the view of an individual and not of Conservatives in local government.

"It's certainly not the view of Conservatives in local government in the north."

Mehboob Khan, leader of Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council, said via Twitter Coun Shakespeare's comments were "outrageous" and showed "the level of contempt the Tories have for people living north of the Midlands".

Coun Shakespeare's comments just months after experts warned the budget cuts would create a bigger North-South divide.

In October, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found the North-East would lose 4.1 per cent of its jobs over the next four years, compared with 3.1 per cent in London and the South-East.