Transcript of the speech as delivered.
Speech by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles at the Queen’s Speech Forum.
You might have noticed over the couple of weeks that I’ve been making some remarks and comments about the chief executives of councils. I can reveal today that it’s all been part of a heavily planned, tightly executed campaign. I’ve decided to run to be chief executive of Solace. And I’m looking forward to hearing what David has to say.
A friend of mine, a senator from Wisconsin, once said that “if you don’t like the folks, don’t be in our business.” The previous government didn’t like the folks. It didn’t trust them. It always believed that it knew best. And we’ve just had thirteen years of the most centralising government in history. A controlling government, obsessed with targets, inspections and micromanagement. It left local government toothless. Community groups out in the cold. Residents powerless to change anything.
We’ve all seen the results. Voting rates plummeted - there’s no point in voting if nothing changes. No matter who they vote for the council always gets in. There was no room for creativity or innovation in public services. You just followed the rules and ticked the boxes. And the money followed the power: so London and the South East grew at the expense of everywhere else in the country.
So when people ask me about my priorities in government, I have 3 very clear priorities: localism, and we’ll weave that into everything we do from parks to finance to policy. My second priority is localism, and my third is… localism.
Because if you want to restore faith in politics, you make sure that local government is properly accountable to the voters.
If you want to rebuild a fragile national economy, then you don’t strangle business with red tape and let bloated regional bodies make all the decisions.
If you want people to feel connected to their communities. Proud of their communities. Then you give people a real say over what happens in their communities. And the power to make a difference.
Because we like the folks. We don’t think we know better than they do. And we trust them to know what’s best for them.
So we are determined to wrest control from the bureaucrats, the quangos, and central government departments. Taking power pushing it as far away from Whitehall as possible. I want you to understand, I am deadly serious about this.
We are definitely going to do this. We are going to shake up the balance of power in this country. We are going to change the nature of the constitution. Be in no doubt about our commitment to localism. I know I look like an unlikely revolutionary, but the revolution starts here.
It won’t be in a single action or a single law. It will be through dramatic and bold actions, but also small and incremental changes. Localism is the principle, the mantra, and defines everything we do.
You might think, well, all governments talk like this. But we’ve proved it by getting on and doing it.
- We’ve made HIPS history and already the number of homes being put up for sale has gone up by 35 per cent.
- We’ve given a lifeline to thousands of businesses in ports who had huge backdated business rates hanging over their head.
- We’ve scrapped the top down housing targets and meaningless regional spatial strategies.
- We’ve put an end to the ‘garden grabbing’ which has seen acres of land lost to intensive development.
- We’ve cut the ring fencing and red tape which comes attached to hundreds of millions pounds worth of central government grants.
- We’re leading by example in making central government more open, more transparent, more accountable.
- And we’re showing we’re serious about saving money. Taking pay cuts ourselves, shining the spotlight on public sector pay, and leaving the public to draw their own conclusions.
That’s not bad for four weeks work, if I do say so myself. And we have more in store for the next few weeks.
Everything we’ve done has been about giving up control, restoring the balance of power. So by the time that the localism bill is introduced later in the year, we’ll already start to localism taking shape and becoming a reality.
That bill will go even further in giving voters more power over local government and local spending. It will free up local government from the shackles of central government control. And it will continue the overhaul of the planning system: to put the community back in charge of how their area develops.
But there are three things I want you to understand about localism.
First, if this is going to have an effect, local government has got to be ready to step up to the plate. Seize the opportunities that are coming your way. Don’t wait around for us to tell you what to do.
There are already councils who are stepping up.
Windsor and Maidenhead, with their ground breaking recycling scheme, showing the future of modern refuge collection.
Essex, with its hugely ambitious programme to transform the way it works and improve the services it offers to residents.
City Hall, putting huge amounts of data online as part of their commitment to transparency and accountability.
These councils aren’t waiting around.
Kent’s not waiting around. Hammersmith and Fulham aren’t waiting around. No council should be waiting around.
Second, localism isn’t just about giving power back to local government. We’re not talking about a tug of war between you and me.
It’s even more important that we push power downwards and outwards to the lowest possible level. Out to the folks themselves.
Because if people know they can make a difference, then there’s a reason to stand up and be counted.
We want to make sure people can take control and take responsibility in their street, their estate, their town. Solving problems and taking action for themselves. With neighbourhoods, people working together, as the basis for the big society.
And my third and final point is that this means there has never been a better time to be involved in local government.
No one working in local government signed up to be told what to do for the rest of their lives by Whitehall.
So there is a real opportunity for councillors today:
- to have much more fulfilling, rewarding careers
- to exercise genuine choice and power
- to change the face of their neighbourhoods
- to actually make a difference to people’s lives
Local government will no longer be the poodle of central government. And together, we are going to be part of the most radical shake up of power there has been for generations.
Thank you very much.