Speech

Parliamentary launch of Civic Day 2013

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles speaking at Parliamentary launch of Civic Day 2013 in the House of Commons.

Introduction

Civic societies are the warp and weft of our communities

When I think of places I’ve lived

From Bradford to Brentwood

I realise they both share in that great tradition of civic pride

They care passionately about the places they belong to

And will stop at nothing

To safeguard the character of their local areas

You, more than anyone,

Embody Edmund Burke’s immortal idea of those ‘little platoons’

‘The first principle of public affections’

Civic Day thanks

Civic Day is a chance to reward that work

To show-off the priceless places you love

And it’s my opportunity to thank you for all you did last year

When the wind was in your sails

Your ranks swelled by those volunteers

Puffed up by the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics

It’s my moment to thank you

For performing all those little acts of kindness

Like the Jabberwocks

Not the Alice in Wonderland fantasy

But junior members of the Hale Civic Society

Who ran a Hale’s own version of the torch relay

Or the good folk of Malvern

Who I’m glad to see represented here today -

With their gold medal Civic Award winning exploits

Running more than 100 events, concerts and displays in just 15 days

And there is no end in sight for the glorious volunteering advance

Because community service has always been your cup of tea

Long before we were putting up the bunting

You were rolling up your sleeves

And getting stuck in

Your new powers

But these days local activism has been augmented

It’s about much more than the next tea party or tombola

We’ve annexed power from Whitehall’s top brass

And handed it back to you … our fired-up footsoldiers

So localism’s lynchpins can lead from the front

Community Rights is a case in point

As Civic Voice’s Love Local campaign highlighted

Local people love nothing more than those simple local pleasures

The fantastic walks and cycle rides of Wirral Way

The stillness of Basingstoke’s old town cemetery – amid the bustle of the town

And the joy of Blackpool’s trams, piers, illuminations that brings happiness to millions

But Civic Voice also found 78 per cent of volunteers fear a community asset they care about could be at risk

Right to Bid

That’s where our new Right to Bid can make all the difference

All you need are 21 people

Banding together to list their local loves

And you can stop the clock on any sale

Saving it for posterity

So far hundreds of assets have been listed

With hundreds more on the way

From football stadiums and bus shelters

To mills and museums

From village shops and village halls,

To churches, pubs, doctors surgeries and libraries

Local people in Nunhead even used the Right to Bid

To buy the historic Ivy House pub outright

And where committed civic activists dare to tread

Others will dare to follow

Coupled with Community Shares

Which enable concerned local people

To pool their finances

Raise money locally

And keep a vested interest going

You can now mount daring rescue operations in your neighbourhoods

Last year £9 million was raised through Community Shares

Tripling the sum in the year before

Last week the Prime Minister led the local call to arms

By announcing a £250 million community asset fund

So anyone with a dream of owning their local pub, shop, or community centre, running it for the benefit of their community

Can make it a reality

Going further

But I know civil societies have even more ambition

They aren’t just looking to protect and save their neighbourhoods

They want them to develop and grow as well

I’m sure you all know King’s Lynn Civic Society last year

They used Civic Day to launch their campaign to bring empty town centre properties back into use

Or Haverhill

No longer prepared to let local youths finish school and graduate to a life on benefits

They got together with local businesses to change the curriculum

And churn out the skills local kids needed

No-one forced them to do it.

They just got on and did it

Now young people in their area will fare better

Community Right to Challenge

Our Community Right to Challenge lets local platoons go even further

And lead the charge to take over local services

Allowing Inspire Rotherham to improve literacy in their area

And Ventnor Town Council to take charge of local car parking

To attract more visitors and shoppers into the town.

Neighbourhood planning

But the real ace up your sleeve are those neighbourhood plans

Recently we saw Eden Valley, Exeter St.James and Thame pass their neighbourhood planning referendums

They can now build more houses for local people

Decide where they go, what they look like and even what they’re made from

People are now alive to the opportunities

We’re seeing the floodgates open

With a further 550 communities on the way

Any civic society, or local group, ready to put themselves out for the local good

Will find our helping hand outstretched

There’s expert advice on the My Community Rights website

And the chance to dip into £60 million pot of public money.

Conclusion: grasping the nettle

So seize this Civic Day

Civic societies are our community cavalry

We’ve still only seen the tiniest fraction of what local rights can do

But I’m not the one who can make them count

Only those…ready to do their civic duty

…with the local know-how

…sheer determination to make a major difference

Can do that

In other words, only you

So be brave

Be bold

Be imperious

And when you succeed

Shout it to the rafters

Involve your local councillors

Tip off your local MP

And don’t forget to let me know too

I will always be your cheer leader in chief.

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