Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh: What three things define your Council as a Conservative Council?
A guest article by Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council and also of the Conservative Party's Council Innovation Unit.
Later today the Conservative Council Innovation Unit is holding its first event at the LGA Conference in Bournemouth. The roundtable, hosted by Localis aims to answer three simple questions:
- What three things define your Council as a Conservative Council?
- What are the three most innovative things that you have done as a Conservative Council?
- What are the three key barriers you face?
Today as the majority of councils are Conservative councils we have a great chance to define the Conservative brand in local government. We cannot settle for doing the same things better than our political opponents. We have to make clear to council officers what we stand for and explain our vision and priorities for our residents. You achieve nothing without the support of your officers. Sometimes you feel that the message is getting through: One of our regeneration officers explained that under the Labour Council her job was to help people maximize their benefits. Under the new Conservative Council it is to get them a job! We also need to move away from an obsession with the Government inspection system. In Hammersmith & Fulham we now focus on measuring residents’ satisfaction with council services. At the same time as cutting Council Tax residents’ satisfaction has increased by 11% in just two years so that we are in the top 5 authorities in London instead of being bog standard. Our value for money rated jumped up 23% over the same period.
For Hammersmith & Fulham Council the three things define my Council as a Conservative Council are:
- Delivering value for money with two successive 3% Council Tax cuts
- Focusing on improving core council services such as street cleaning, refuse, recycling services and improving our parks
- Borough of Opportunity: Tackling poverty and the widening social divide by giving a “hand up” instead of a “hand out” by transforming our state schools, providing a housing ladder of opportunity with home ownership at its core and regenerating our most deprived areas by using the public sector to pump prime major investment by the private sector.
For H&F Council the three most innovative things would probably be:
- Reducing the :communication budget so that we currently spend less on communications than we did 10 years ago by selling real advertising
- Jointly appointing with K&C a senior officer responsible for transport and highways
- Introducing H&F HomeBuy Unit which now offers residents a range of low cost home ownership products including rent free Social Homebuy and changing social housing allocation to prioritise those in employment
Three barriers we face are:
- Increasing costs such as wage inflation, cost of employer’s contribution to Council pension fund
- Constant interference by central Government who see all Councils as agents of Whitehall
- Ability to tackle welfare dependency (currently around 20% of the working age population in my borough are on benefits and nearly 25% of Londoners are out of work.
Tomorrow I will compare these answers with those from other leading Conservative Councils. Defining what we stand as Conservatives in local government has to be the startpoint.