Eric Pickles answers more of your questions
We have already published the first installment of answers to the questions you recently posed about local government reorganisation to shadow communities and local government secretary, Eric Pickles. Here is his second set of answers, covering how Conservative councils can be Conservative, local councils' use of anti-terrorism powers to spy one people, the Conservative revival in the north of England and the regularity of rubbish collections.
His final responses will be published tomorrow morning.
Questions from David Cooper and Deborah: What are your recommendations for strengthening the resolve of Conservative councillors, especially those in authorities that have recently changed hands, to deal with executive officers who either drag their feet over plans for efficiencies and savings or condone/encourage unacceptable treatment of council taxpayers in the name of the council? And how should the Conservative Party deal with those councillors who wore blue rosettes to get elected but who do not follow Conservative principles?
Eric Pickles: I believe in democracy, and as such I think elected representatives should make decisions in the interest of their communities, not unelected and unaccountable officials. The first question I always ask our council leaders is 'how would your electorate know you are a Conservative council?' It is surprising how many don't have an answer. It was the case that some of our Councils were delivering a version of Labour lite – delivering the government's agenda in an efficient and effective way that you would expect from a Tory council. But the time has come to break the consensus. I recently called on out councillors to "just say no" to the government if a Whitehall proposal wasn't in the best interests of their electorate. I am delighted that many of my local government colleagues have accepted that challenge. The clear illustration of this is the number of councils who have signed up to our council tax freeze policy. Those Councils make me extremely proud.
Question from david graveney: Do you approve of Conservative Councils using anti-terrorism powers to spy on their electors?
Eric Pickles: No. We recently pledged to end the abuse and misuse of town hall spying powers. In a new policy document, we outlined plans to ban surveillance for all but the most serious criminal offences, to require all surveillance to be approved by a magistrate, and to make councillors directly responsible for any authorisation under the anti-terror laws of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). People's privacy and liberty have been undermined by the disproportionate use of surveillance powers by town halls. Taxpayers' money is being wasted on bankrolling an army of town hall spies acting out their James Bond fantasies. Labour Ministers claim they are considering new 'guidance', yet behind the spin, they are planning to extend, not retrench, the use of town hall surveillance. Rest assured, Conservatives will protect the rights of law-abiding citizens from Labour's growing snooper state, and change the law to end this abuse of these state powers which should only be used to tackle terror and serious crimes.
Question from Wearside Tory: Eric, as a proud Northerner, what can we do to ensure that the Conservatives become an electoral force in Northern cities like Sunderland, Carlisle, Leeds, Manchester and perhaps even Newcastle?
Eric Pickles: We have already made huge steps forward. We have rebuilt our organisation across the north and we saw the results of the hard work that has been put in by the party's professionals and volunteers in the local election results in May. We made incredible strides forward by taking control of councils such as Bury and North Tyneside, and increased the number of councillors in places like Sunderland. However, there is still much more to do. The Northern Board, under the stewardship of William Hague and Michael Bates is helping to shape policies that are relevant and focused on the needs of our northern towns and cities. However, there isn't a silver bullet, and we will only continue to make gains if we take the north seriously, continue to devote resources and time, and most importantly, through sustained hard work continue to show voters in the north that we are worthy of their support.
Question from Jake: Why wasn't the Conservative party been reorganised on federal/country lines years ago and why is it still not now? If there is a Scottish Conservative Party, a Welsh Conservative Party and, it would seem, an emerging Ulster Conservative Party, then why on earth is there not also an English Conservative Party to represent England within an overall British entity?
Eric Pickles: I am pleased to say this is well above my pay grade.
Question from NigelC: Earlier in the year the Conservatives announced that there would be extra money to fund weekly residual waste collections. The LGA has said EVERY household in Britain could soon be told to throw out leftover food in a separate bin as a scheme to reduce landfill is rolled out across the country. There are a plethora of different arrangements for waste collection in place. Is some consistency needed or are you happy with a free for all?
Eric Pickles: Gordon Brown is making it increasingly hard for families to throw away their waste responsibly. Despite soaring levels of council tax, local residents are being hit by cuts to collections, over-zealous use of bin fines and the prospect of expensive new bin taxes which will push up the cost of living. Councils are getting the blame for policies imposed by Whitehall. Conservatives believe that decent rubbish collections are a vital front-line council service to help protect the local environment and public health. We reject Labour's approach of state bullying, cutting services and higher taxes. That is why we will provide funding for those councils that wish to introduce proper weekly rubbish collections, on top of comprehensive recycling services. We will make it easier for families to go green and increase recycling by working with households, not punishing them with heavy-handed bin taxes, bin cuts and bin fines. However, as someone who is a champion of localism, I of course respect that it is for Councils who are directly responsible to their electorate to make the choice about services they offer.