Local Government Association: speech by Eric Pickles

Speech by Secretary of State Eric Pickles to the Local Government Association conference on 3 July 2013.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Eric Pickles

Conference chums, today we are not just in the middle of the Local Government Association (LGA) annual conference 2013, we’re also in the middle of a Parliament.

And all the main political parties now agree that public spending is going to remain constrained well into the future.

That means we must all make that extra effort to spend people’s hard earned cash ever more wisely.

Throughout this year I’ve seen councils making enormous strides.

Breckland, Forest Heath and East Cambridgeshire are working in partnership to deliver more than £2 million savings.

Joining forces by not just sharing the usual back office functions but collaborating ever closer over front line services.

Or skip across the M1, where Oxfordshire are coming out of their shell, working together with Milton Keynes, Reading, Bracknell Forest and Hertfordshire, to jointly commission children’s homes and education services for children with complex needs.

Saving at least £2.5 million in the process.

What’s particularly interesting about the local authority approach to efficiency, is that the LGA’s own research is showing that, despite all the doom mongers’ predictions, the public now think their councils are delivering better value for money than before 2010.

But I believe there is scope for us to go much further - a challenge we must meet.

Sharing a single IT contract is not enough when public sector procurement accounts for around £58 billion.

We need to go back to the drawing board and redesign services from scratch, see real transformation, and we’ve given local authorities carte-blanche to do just that.

Groundhog Day

When I heard renewed calls for a rewiring of public services, devolved funding and less bureaucracy, it felt like Groundhog Day.

Over the last couple of years we have radically decentralised more power down.

We scrapped those top down targets, from Local Area Agreements to Regional Spatial Strategies.

We’ve scaled back central government data reporting although there is more to do.

The Electoral Commission still think they can carry on regardless like it’s the era of Best Value Performance Indicators. Still partying like its 1999 with a ‘data dance of the absurd’.

We have significantly decentralised local finance - from the Housing Revenue Account, to the removal of ring-fencing, to the local retention of business rates.

As we move forward with real reform,

We’re now seeing the results.

Community Budgets

Look at the way you’re seizing the initiative with Community Budgets.

In Greater Manchester they used to spend around £300 million on Early Years per year.

Yet despite this 40% of children in that area were found not to be school ready.

That’s 16,000 children.

So they gripped the situation.

Brought schools, authorities, the NHS, and GPs together in one room.

Made sure that parents got the support they needed as their children embarked on their early years educational journey.

And they are now delivering net savings of around £145 million over a 25 year period.

Altogether the pilots have identified £800 million worth of savings.

What’s more they’ve not achieved it by taking a hammer to the machinery of government.

Back to the future

The LGA has called this week for combined super Whitehall department. Transport, Environment, Local Government.

This sounds familiar.

Fire up the DeLorean, it’s Back to the Future - John Prescott’s super-empire.

Civil servants and local government officials described that Department as unfocused, lacking leadership and comparable to a ‘pantomime horse’. The scathing verdict on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was revealed in a leaked MORI opinion poll of government officials. It depicted a department that is poorly managed and suffering from ‘re-organisation fatigue’.

So I think not.

To coin a phrase, we practice lean government.

Fewer quangos, smaller Whitehall departments, power devolved down - not just to councils, but down even further to neighbourhoods, community groups and to people.

In DCLG, I’m practising what we preach:

  • from scrapping the likes of the Audit Commission, to the Government Offices of the Regions, to the Standards Board

  • to replacing regional planning, with local planning

  • to giving residents new community rights to safeguard their community assets and local green spaces

I like to think we are the living embodiment of the maxim - citizens should be big, and the state should be small.

There’s much more to do.

We’ve only just dipped our toes in the waters of the possible.

Nationally, LGA research reckon the partnership approach could save billions not millions.

Which is why we are expanding this approach in many more directions.

Public Transformation Network

Our Public Transformation Network will spread the opportunity created by Community Budgets right round the country.

And Spending Review money will also let us expand the Network beyond 2015.

Today I’m pleased to announce the first 9 areas who will receive innovative support:

  • Bath and North East Somerset
  • Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset
  • Hampshire
  • Lewisham, Lambeth and Southwark
  • Sheffield
  • Surrey
  • Swindon
  • the West London Alliance (Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon and Hounslow)
  • Wirral

The network is an opportunity to break down the barriers to find the beating heart of the bureaucrat.

And it’s a chance for you to share successes about what works.

Because when there’s less taxpayers’ money to go round,

We need to embrace openness and accountability to help drive out waste and inefficiency.

It’s about a culture change inside both central and local government.

My department’s corporate credit card spending has fallen by 3 quarters since we started putting it all online.

Transparency is not something to begrudge

But transparency is not something to begrudge.

The other week, we issued a practical guide to the press and public on how they can report, tweet and film council meetings.

Embracing the digital age, rather than clinging to an analogue interpretation of press access rules.

There is still residual opposition.

Monitoring officers say: “We can’t oppose letting in cameras. Our standing orders prohibit it without 3 days notice”.

So change them! …get a better monitoring officer…or just ditch the standing order.

What does it say about the self-confidence of local government that when you watch an episode of Grand Designs…

When it comes to filming the Planning Committee…the door normally remains shut.

What does it communicate about our faith in planning officers, and what does it say about the role of councillors in shaping where development should and shouldn’t go.

I want people to see the good work that councils do.

The difficult choices, the trade offs, the debate.

The best thing we can do to get more people involved in local government is open the doors.

It can show what armchair auditors are already finding out - local government has plenty to be proud of.

Troubled families

Troubled families is a case in point.

They used to drain around £9 billion per year from the public purse unchecked and unnoticed.

But this isn’t just a numbers game.

These families were living miserable lives.

Often causing misery to the communities around them.

Now, transparency and collaboration have become our way to turn things around.

Last month I travelled to Leicestershire to see the progress for myself.

I came across one family who had made really big strides as a result of the Family Intervention Project.

A mum with 3 children had been at risk of losing her home due to anti-social behaviour.

Their issues were fairly typical of the families you have started to all identify.

Concerns about child welfare, domestic violence and alleged drug use in the family home.

But the mum I spoke to felt she’d been given another chance. Her violent partner had been kicked out, drugs were no longer part of the furniture, complaints from neighbours receding - and no further action taken to evict them.

Even more remarkably Mum has now got a job in a care home for the elderly, and for the first time in years is looking forward to the future.

Leicestershire has identified 679 of its 810 families and are now actively working with 470.

And what we’re seeing there, is what we’re seeing right across the country, from Manchester to Wandsworth.

By the end of the first year you were already working with 35,000 families. Putting us on track to turn around our target of 120,000 by 2015.

You’re tackling problems people once dismissed as unsolvable.

Giving families once destined for failure - a future. And a bright one at that.

Isn’t this the reason all of us got into government in the first place?

So it is a testament to you here that we’re extending the troubled family principles further.

That’s why during the Spending Review we’ve announced a further £200 million investment.

So that we’ll be able to work with a further 400,000 vulnerable families before their problems spiral out of control.


Now I believe there is a historic opportunity to do for social care what we’re doing for troubled families.

It is heartbreaking that in this day and age older people can still be passed between NHS pillar and social care post.

It’s not right that many end up trapped in a hospital ward, when they’d be better off in their own bed.

This year is the 65th anniversary of the NHS. It is a great British institution, but one that lacks your adaptability.

So you can bring to give this nation the integrated health and care services it’s crying out for.

With the help of a whopping £3.8 billion cash injection courtesy of this government.

Those who have paid their dues deserve something better.

I know you can make it work.

Because places like the Tri-borough - Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea - have already laid the foundations for integration.

They were faced with a situation where 20% of local people accounted for around 80% of spending on health and social care.

So they got their heads together, and instead of blue skies thinking, they settled for a bit of good old fashioned common sense.

Bringing social services together with the NHS, to free up hospital beds and get people some desperately needed help at home.

What a contrast to Labour’s much trumpeted top down Total Place policy.

It lacked the one ingredient that could actually make life better - localism.

Personally throughout the Spending Round I always kept Fred and Ethel in my mind.

This is about ensuring they can live their latter years in dignity.

And now we’re giving you, our elected local leaders, our great innovators, a once in a lifetime opportunity to frame that change.

So I’m looking for you to focus on the issues and get past the structures.

To focus on your hard working taxpayers.

To do more for less.

Council Tax

Because no-one wants to return to the bad old days of tax and spend.

Remember the time Council Tax bills went up 13% in just one year?

Over the last decade residents felt their take-home pay shrink by the year, as Council Tax bills doubled.

But we have taken decisive action in that regard, it has stopped spiralling.

So we’ve once again put aside money that will extend the Council Tax freeze to cover the whole of the lifetime of this Parliament.

That’s 5 years of real term cuts to lighten the load - worth potentially £1,100 pounds off the average band D Council Tax bill for families.

Your choice. And if you want to hike Council Tax…fine!

Just put it to the people.

There are local and European elections across England next year, and a general election after that.

So you can hold a Council Tax referendum at the same time at minimal cost.

Make your case.

I say - trust the people. Now, it’s not a message that quangos understand

Information Commissioner

But I know nothing gets your goat more than having to grapple with Information Commissioner demands, to pay £35 a year to register as a data controller.

Pay up or face the threat a criminal conviction and an unlimited fine, as the Monitoring Officer would helpfully say.

I announced 2 years ago here we would tackle the bureaucratic burden of individual registration.

A tax on volunteering, nothing more.

I have to be honest.

I had no idea how difficult some quangocrats would be.

Frodo had it easier trying to take the ring back to Mount Doom.

But I can confirm we will move to a system where your council will pay collectively your fees.

And I would like in particular to thank my Justice colleague, Lord McNally, for appreciating the need to reduce the burdens on local councillors.

And for ensuring no extra financial burden on you or your council.


So now is not the time for the fainthearted.

Take the powers you’ve got

  • focus on the issues

  • work together

  • demanding the transformation of services

Not just contentious top-down restructures, but genuine, locally-led joint working, with central and local government working together.

Reinvigorate and harness that sense of pride back into the heart of local communities.

And maximise the bang for every municipal buck spent on behalf of your residents.

As many of you have shown

Anything is possible

So keep going as long as you can - and then - let’s take another step.

Published 3 July 2013