YORK’S “get up and go” economy and its fight against poverty have been hailed by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as his party arrives in the city for its spring conference.

Speaking exclusively to The Press ahead of the three-day political gathering at the Barbican, which starts today, the Deputy Prime Minister said a “vibrant and diverse” economic approach meant York was in prime shape for the future.

He applauded local efforts to tackle deprivation, backed by The Press Stamp Out Poverty campaign, but insisted that, despite the unpopularity of Government welfare reforms, policies driven by his party have eased the pain.

Mr Clegg, who has described York as “a great place to do business”, told The Press: “Through policies we’ve been involved in, we’ve seen a real ‘get up and go’ spirit in York, economically speaking.

“A lot of York companies are doing extremely well, which bodes well for York’s future. There are some high-profile instances of local employers shifting jobs elsewhere or even closing their operations, but the fact York has a vibrant and diverse economy is worth celebrating.

“What went wrong in the past was when cities relied heavily on the public sector or one industry at the exclusion of others. But York, very importantly, has a diverse range of businesses.”

Mr Clegg said Westminster had tried to command all key decisions affecting communities “for far too long”, and York’s anti-poverty work showed this was not the only way. “Sometimes, the best solutions to the most complex problems are found locally,” he said.

“I’m very supportive of any effort in York where local communities work across party lines to help people in those communities.”

The Lib Dem leader accepted welfare reforms were “difficult and have provoked controversy”, but said: “We cannot create opportunity and hope for people facing difficult times unless we extend the opportunity to work, the best way out of poverty.”

He said thousands of York residents had benefited from a Lib Dem policy to cut income tax for basic rate taxpayers, “perhaps increasing the incentive to work”, the Pupil Premium had supported the education of about 4,500 York children and his party had secured free childcare and school meals for Key Stage One pupils.

“We’re trying to help people make a vast adjustment after the huge economic shock of 2008,” he said.

Mr Clegg believes his pro-EU party face “a tough set” of European elections in May, saying: “The conditions were more benign for us last time, but now we’re in Government, taking a lot of very difficult decisions.

“Some people love or hate Europe come hell or high water. The vast majority are sceptical about how parts of it work – I don’t blame them; it needs reform and improvement – but, in their hearts, know being in Europe means being in work. A lot of jobs are at stake, and being in the single market means York companies can sell their ideas and services.

“Employment in Yorkshire and the Humber has risen by 126,000 since the last election. I don’t think that would have been remotely possible without Europe. We can’t create jobs if we turn our backs on the rest of the world.”

Immigration, which the Lib Dems and Tories clashed on yesterday, will be a key issue at the conference. “It needs to be tougher in some respects, but migrant workers are incredibly important for us – the NHS would collapse overnight without them,” Mr Clegg said.

“I hope people, Lib Dem or not, will see our conference stands out from the crowd by being democratic rather than stitched up by a coterie of MPs.

“As a Yorkshire MP, albeit from the southern tip, I’m really chuffed it’s in York – I’ve been there many times, and it’s a wonderful place.

“The next few days will be pretty full on, but I hope I’ll get the chance to get some fresh air and look around the beauty of York.”

Clegg to ‘expose’ UKIP

TAKING on UKIP leader Nigel Farage in a televised debate on Europe next month will be a chance to “expose” the anti-EU party, Nick Clegg told The Press.

Mr Farage has said he is relishing the prospect of the April 2 showdown in the run-up to the European elections, but Mr Clegg said: “I think UKIP have a lot to be embarrassed about.

“They say they’re standing up for Britain, but when they have a licence to do that in the European Parliament they do exactly the opposite.

"They don’t vote for measures to bring more jobs to Britain, they vote against measures which would bring down mobile phone roaming charges, they vote against research budgets which benefit the University of York and many others. It’s not a bad thing to expose the huge gap between what UKIP say and what they fail to do.”

Government cuts protest in city centre

A MASS demonstration against Government austerity measures will be held in York tomorrow lunchtime as the Liberal Democrat conference continues.

Thousands of people are expected to join the Better Way rally organised by Yorkshire and Humber TUC, with a march leaving Clifford’s Tower at 11.30am and heading past the Barbican conference venue and into the city centre before returning to the Eye of York for a 12.30pm rally.

Bill Adams, Yorkshire and Humber TUC regional secretary, said: “The Government’s austerity policies have driven down living standards, slashed public services, reduced economic recovery, increased debt and plunged huge numbers of people into poverty – this demonstration will be a chance to show an alternative path forward.”

Last week, an independent review of the benefits system in York claimed Government sanctions had led to vulnerable claimants suffering and were not encouraging people to seek work.

Meanwhile, police have assured the public this weekend’s conference will be “safe and secure”.

Superintendent Phil Cain, York safer neighbourhood Commander, said police would work with the council and other agencies to ensure disruption was kept to a minimum.