Speech

Response to the Local Government Association offer

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

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version. Before I start, want to first congratulate Baroness Eaton on her recent…


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

Before I start, want to first congratulate Baroness Eaton on her recent ennoblement. I witnessed her entry into the Lords last week with her family and friends. There was a point I had to pretend I was suffering from hayfever.

Local government couldn’t find a better champion or a stronger advocate to represent them.

I’ve actually got two versions of my speech this morning.

The shorter one: I’d just stand up and say: thanks for the offer. I’m delighted to accept, and sit down again.

But I guess you want to get your money’s worth so I’ll give you the extended version.

The LGA is absolutely right: we need to find a better way to do business.

My job as Secretary of State is not to sit in my office, making all the decisions, pulling all the strings, coming up with more and more original ways to annoy you. It’s to get out of your way: and to get everything else out of your way too.

Even if there had been no economic crisis.

Even if we weren’t saddled with public debt.

The balance of power in the country is utterly wrong.

Everything that’s happened over the past thirteen years was in my view an attempt to hoard power.

To take control and democratic legitimacy away from councils and communities.

And turn local government into local management of services.

It’s time to put this right.

My job as Secretary of State is not to sit in my office, making all the decisions, pulling all the strings, coming up with more and more original ways to annoy you. It’s to get out of your way: and to get everything else out of your way too.

That’s what localism means. Pushing power out to local government, and beyond into neighbourhoods and communities.

I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words.

So I hardly need to remind you of everything we’ve done over the past few months to make this happen.

Taken out regional government. Scrapped housing targets. Ended the comprehensive area assessment.

The LGA knows better than anyone else where the challenges lie and how to overcome them.

Put councils and communities back in control of their own destinies.

Now as you’ll know, this is the last day that Parliament is sitting before the House rises.

But I can promise you that we will not be sitting back in our deckchairs for six weeks.

We’ll be keeping up the momentum.

We’re already working on this productivity programme together.

We’re also already working together on ‘place based area budgets’. I love the idea. I hate the name.

I want something that actually means something. Let’s call them what they are: community budgets.

I’m not the only one who loves the idea of community budgets, by the way. The Prime Minister loves them. The DPM loves them. The Chancellor loves them. There’s huge interest right across Whitehall.

‘Total Place’ may have been a step in the right direction, but it was the smallest, most begrudging step possible. Loosening the leash a tiny bit rather than just simply letting you off it.

It was a bit like local government was a fifteen year old girl with really strict parents.

They let you go down the dance for the first time.

But then totally cramped your style by parking round the corner to watch what you were up to and made you go home at half past nine.

Not so much ‘total place’. More like ‘know your place’.

I don’t want to be the Dad hanging round the corner. You can get yourselves down the dance. You can stay out all night if you want. Let your hair down - before it all goes like mine.

There’s a lot of work to do to make it happen, but if we work together we can.

The LGA has a hugely important leadership role. To make sure that the sector isn’t let down by a few clueless councils who won’t seize these opportunities.

The LGA knows better than anyone else where the challenges lie and how to overcome them.

We can clearly deliver ‘more for less.’ You’ve said you can achieve better outcomes and faster improvement, for less money.

I believe you. I want to put you in charge of that money as soon as possible. And I want to make rapid progress on this over the next few weeks.

Of course, I’ll need your commitment to the same standards we’re asking of anyone using public money.

For example, it would only be right that you were subject to the same freedom of information rules that central government or councils are; so the public can ask questions about where the money’s going.

But more than just following the rules, I really want the LGA to embrace the same spirit of openness, transparency and accountability I’m asking from councils.

If councils can put all their spending above £500 online. If my Department can do it. Then can’t the LGA do it too?

So I’ll ask you, the LGA, the same question that I’m asking councils: show me the money. Show me where it is spent. Let the public see just how this valuable institution spends its money.

I’m not going to tell you what to do any more. So you don’t have to keep running and asking me what you should be doing.

Now, the LGA offer is a big challenge to me, and to government. I think it’s only fair to challenge back a little bit.

I’ve sometimes been disappointed with the ambition from some councils.

Take, for example, the proposals which came forward on the Sustainable Communities Act.

We are committed to embracing the best ideas. And we want to work with you to decide which ones we can make progress on over the summer.

But to be frank there aren’t all that many.

Some of them are either barmy or banal.

And what was even more worrying is that councils were asking for the power to do things that they can already do.

I know that there are undoubtedly frustrations and blockages in your way.

But some of them exist in people’s minds rather than reality.

You might as well know what you’ve got and use it, while I work on giving you more.

Like this power of general competence that local government’s been crying out for.

I totally support it. I think you need it. And I’ll give it to you in the localism bill.

Obviously, there have got to be limits.

I’m not going to be the Secretary of State who let Passport to Pimlico happen on his watch.

And I think it’s reasonable that councils shouldn’t use their new found freedom to saddle up the horses, arm their citizens and invade France.

Apart from that, the world will be your oyster.

But at the same time, I ask myself the question: why is it that only around fifteen per cent of councils have used their power to promote wellbeing? Why a measly fifteen percent?

I want to give you the power and the freedom you want.

But power to sit on your hands and freedom to twiddle your thumbs isn’t real power or real freedom.

I’m not going to tell you what to do any more. So you don’t have to keep running and asking me what you should be doing. Whether this or that is allowed.

The local enterprise partnerships are a really good example of this.

They’ve gone down a storm with the local business community.

Both the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chamber of Commerce have welcomed the new set up, and the opportunities this presents for small businesses.

But it needs councils to really step up and play the leading role in the local economy you say you’ve always wanted.

Instead, I keep being asked questions: Can I do this, Secretary of State? Is it ok if I do that, Secretary of State? What are the real guidelines?

This is the first time central government has gone to communities and asked them what they want to do. So let me be absolutely clear.

Be as ambitious as you can. Be as radical as you like. Be as bold as you want.

Make me an offer I can’t refuse. (I use that in the non-Mafia sense).

I won’t stand in your way.

If you’ve got genuinely radical, genuinely promising ideas, I’ll shout them from the rooftops.

I will be your champion in Cabinet. We’ve already made sure that councils will have a central role in new health reforms. Who would have believed Councils would be so central to the running of the NHS?

I will tear down all the barriers and get rid of all the bureaucracy which stands in your way.

I will turn Whitehall upside down to make this new relationship work.

I absolutely trust local government to deliver.

So over the summer, just get on and do it.

You and me are going to change the constitution, change the balance of power. LEPs are a real opportunity for local economies.

This is a once in a generation offer. Seize it. Take it.

Don’t let your communities down.