London councils summit 2010

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version. I’m going to avoid all the obvious jokes about Guy Fawkes night. No corny…

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

The Rt Hon Lord Pickles

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

I’m going to avoid all the obvious jokes about Guy Fawkes night.

No corny remarks about blowing up parliament or references to a bonfire of the quangos.

I’ll just stick to my little sparkler of a speech.

But I do just want to make one point before I start.

I was delighted to hear yesterday that the FBU had called off its strike which would have covered Bonfire Night and Diwali. I am glad that common sense has prevailed.

I think that a lot of people here today will have had grave reservations about the proposed strike. I hope the unions and employers can resolve this dispute in a more constructive way, without resorting to industrial action.

Let me get back to the main event.

There’s no denying the recent financial settlement was tough for councils. And you all knew it would be.

But though councils have less money - you also have far more power.

More influence. More choices. More opportunities. More freedom than you’ve had in decade. In truth more power than for a quarter of a century.

So make no mistake.

Even if the coffers were overflowing.

We’d still be doing this.

We’d still be passing power out - to local councils and to local communities.

Because it’s big government as well as big spending that got us into this financial mess.

And if you want to run better public services.

If you want to have a dynamic economy.

If you want to have strong local communities.

Then you don’t control everything from on high.

You need to put power back where it belongs.

You give councils control of the purse strings and let them make the decisions.

You stop tying councillors up with red tape and regulation and let them get on with it.

You give people a genuine reason to get involved in their community - in the knowledge that they can actually make a difference.

That’s what this settlement was about - power and influence as well as the raw figures.

It’s about making local communities stronger.

We’ve had more than a decade of central government pulling the strings. Look where it got us.

It’s time to give local government a try.

And London is showing how it’s done.

You get Redbridge - more open, more honest, more transparent - really getting the community involved in difficult choices.

You get Camden and Islington - looking at saving the public thousands of pounds by sharing a chief executive and senior management.

You get Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea - demonstrating the future of local public services.

London councils are taking the lead.

Showing the future of local government.

And I believe that all of you can rise to this challenge.

All of you can innovate, save money - and give your residents a better deal.

Because the shackles of central government have been removed.

For the first time in living memory, you can genuinely make a difference to the lives of your residents.

Now that you don’t have the targets, the forms and the inspections to worry about.

You can get on with worrying about what your residents want.

And there are lots of areas where you will be in a stronger position by working together.
Take pensions.

London boroughs control 33 pension funds worth something like £19 billion pounds.

Some councils are already working together to better manage their funds.

And something like £60 million could be saved if all pension funds were being run at the standard of the best.

Isn’t it about London councils look seriously at safeguarding their employees pensions through partnerships?

But there’s no reason why shared services should stop in the back office.

What we’re seeing in West London is three councils at the cutting edge of innovation.

Not just sharing HR, finance and buildings but looking at adult social care and children’s services too.

Of course, there’s been a lot of rubbish talked about ‘mergers’ and ‘super-councils’.

Nobody sensible is suggesting that’s on the table at all.

No-one’s saying that Kensington and Chelsea is going to be hoovered up, or that Islington is going to be taken-over.

Local identity, local accountability, local sovereignty is still paramount.

In fact, residents shouldn’t notice the difference at all - except that they should get better, more consistent local services.

A massive power shift is going on here. Localism is no longer a dirty word - it’s the only show in town.

After being the prisoner of central government for decade, this is now your time to shine and bask in the sun.

And I know some people find it hard to believe.

But this is real. This is happening.

I haven’t secretly got a hundred targets up my sleeve which I’ll produce if you don’t do exactly as I want.

I’m letting you get on with it.

And if you don’t deliver, it won’t be me turning up to darken your doorstep.

It will be your voters.

We’ve got a new balance of power now.

It means a new relationship between you and your residents.

Instead of turning to me asking ‘what should we do, Secretary of State?’ ‘am I doing this right?’ - you need to be asking them that question.

But you can only do that if you are genuinely open and transparent.

If you are prepared to be challenged and held to account.

But if you are confident in your decisions, if you believe in what you are doing, there’s no reason why you should need to hide behind closed doors.

Fifteen London councils have already put their spending online - so why can’t the others? What have you got you got to hide?

This new balance of power also means a new relationship between you and me.

I have spent a long time in local government. I trust you. I support you. And I want to be able to discuss the really difficult issues openly and honestly.

One of those is housing benefit - and what that will mean in London.

It’s raising a lot of questions and speculation. But let’s remember what we’re really talking about.


Is it fair that people’s taxes are being used to give other people 30, 40, 50 grand a year for housing benefit?

Is it fair that there hard working families living in your wards who can only dream of the homes enjoyed by some people living on benefits?

Is it surprising that this causes a lot of resentment?

It is time to live in the real world.

Housing benefit has gone up by £5 billion just in the last five years - up by 50 per cent in the last ten years.

It’s not only unfair - it’s completely unaffordable.

And we’ve got to be able to talk about this without the debate being hijacked by outlandish claims which only serve to whip up public hysteria.

There’s no doubt that there are tough times ahead. Difficult choices to make.

But you know and I know that we can’t make sensible, fair decisions, if we resort to myths and hysteria instead of the facts.

We need a discussion, not a media feeding frenzy.

You’ve got all these new powers, all this new influence.

Voters will want you to use them responsibly and sensibly.

London has a world-wide reputation for creativity, for innovation, for dynamism.

This great capital city needs councils who will live up to that reputation.

And I’m looking forward to seeing what you do.

Published 6 November 2010