Good evening everyone.
After my last speech about local government I was a bit worried I’d have my invitation for tonight revoked, so it’s great to be here!
I think it’s fair to say my speech at the LGA got a mixed reception from the local government family.
“Rarely have I been so incensed by a Secretary of State’s speech.”
That was one of the nicer things Nick Forbes had to say.
“I displayed serious restraint by not heckling”, tweeted Shaid Mushtaq.
Nick Golding from the LGC called it “astonishing”.
I’m fairly sure he meant that in a good way…
And depending on who you listen to, it went down either like a “bucket of cold sick,” or – my personal favourite – a “cat food lasagne”.
So as I say, a mixed response…
Look, I know some people weren’t happy with parts of that speech.
But let me be clear.
I love what local government does for this country.
And I’m proud to represent you, defend you, and speak for you at the Cabinet table.
Every day of the week, up and down the country, we see amazing work being done by councillors, officials and other employees.
And I don’t just mean the great and the good gathered in this room, or the senior figures who attend big conferences.
I’m talking about the people out there on the front line delivering the services we all rely on.
From street cleaners to social workers.
Without them, without their skill and dedication, this country simply couldn’t function.
Over the past few years we’ve asked a lot of local government.
And time and again you have delivered.
I will always respect you for that.
And I want local government to be as good as it can be.
Sometimes, that’s going to involve me saying things you don’t all agree with.
But good friends are honest and open with each other.
If I’m ever critical of the work being done by some local authorities, it’s only because I want to help you do better.
And that level of honesty is a two-way street, by the way.
I’m not hiding away here in Westminster.
My door is always open, my phone is always on.
I want you to talk to me.
I want you to tell me what you think.
If we don’t see things the same way, that’s fine.
The very nature of politics and government means we won’t always agree.
Sometimes those divisions will be along party lines, sometimes a Parliament/town hall split.
It doesn’t mean we don’t respect each other, it doesn’t mean we can’t work together.
And we do have to work together.
The challenges we face – in housing, in social care, in community cohesion and so much more – are too great to tackle alone.
Only through a strong, open, constructive relationship between local and central government can we make sure that councils are able to deliver the services everyone needs.
That doesn’t just mean group leaders talking to secretaries of state.
It’s about the full range of local and national politicians working together constructively to get things done.
So I’m delighted to see Martin and the APPG doing so much to make that happen.
Breaking down barriers, bringing people together, building trust and understanding.
Like the Prime Minister, a lot of the MPs here tonight are former councillors.
But I also know that, like me, a lot of them have mainly experienced local government as a taxpayer, a voter, a consumer of services.
We’ve got a lot of different perspectives in the room this evening, and that can only be a good thing.
None of us here has a monopoly on wisdom.
Local government has long been more trusted than its national counterpart.
I want that high level of trust, and the equally high satisfaction with services, to continue.
I want to keep on working with all of you to help make that happen.
And I’m looking forward to doing just that for many years to come.