Tim Montgomerie writes:
Tory leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, Stephen Greenhalgh has written for today's Sunday Telegraph about best practice in local government. It is a distillation of a longer analysis he has written for the Centre for Policy Studies; The New Good Council Guide.
Here are Cllr Greenhalgh's key conclusions:
"Average council taxes in H&F are now £350 lower than they would have been had the council maintained the previous rate of increase under Labour. Despite significant cost pressures on local government, our relentless pursuit of value for money has meant that we have cut council spending by £7 million (or 4 per cent) in cash terms, cut the workforce by 18 per cent (or 950 full-time equivalent employees) and cut the council's debt by £20 million.
At the same time, services have improved significantly. High-profile, round-the-clock beat policing has been introduced and paid for by the council - there were 2,000 fewer recorded crimes this year. Street-cleaning services and council estates are being improved."
His article discusses cuts in communication budgets, sacking of political advisers, compulsory tendering of inhouse council services and a particular commitment to provide better services for low income families.
Earlier this week Cllr Nigel Fletcher discussed life as an opposition. Cllr Greenhalgh noted its importance for what his administration is now doing:
"My political career is based on a solid foundation of failure: I was in opposition for more than 10 years, and all my time was spent talking to local people and getting to know the issues that mattered to them. Opposition gave us the time and space to develop our policies and to communicate them."
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:
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:
Stephen Greenhalgh is Conservative leader of Hammersmith and Fulham and a key member of the team that Boris Johnson has appointed to audit City Hall. He won ConservativeHome.com's 2007/08 'Local Hero Award'. In this article Stephen introduces the aims of the new Conservative Council Innovation Unit and its aim to write 'the bible' of best practice for Conservatives in local government.
This May we have witnessed the death of both New Labour and old Labour in power. Last week Eric Pickles masterminded Labour's first by-election defeat since the 1978 by-election in Ilford North, a Labour seat, when a young Tessa Jowell lost to Vivian Bendall who is currently my Association Chairman. A couple of weeks ago my Labour predecessor as Council Leader described the loss of Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London "as the worst blow to Labour since the 1992 general election defeat".
However, many of our critics point to a lack of vision or programme for government. As we already dominate local government, our challenge is to define and articulate our Conservative vision. It is an opportunity for our party to demonstrate our priorities and goals for the communities we seek to represent.
We need to find the right language, establish Conservative values and develop a new Conservative lexicon to replace the New Labour mantras that dominate public sector thinking today. Frankly New Labour's sole political legacy has been to rewrite the language of local government. For instance this month's pamphlet published by the SOLACE Foundation which is the professional network for local authority chief executives and senior managers is entitled "How equality shapes place: diversity and localism". Their rhetoric has been about "equality and diversity", "fairness" and "social justice" and the reality has been greater levels of inequality and a decrease in social mobility.
The news this morning is of a "tough" expenditure settlement for local authorities. Council chiefs are telling the BBC that they will either have to cut services or increase council tax.
One council that is choosing a different road is Tory-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham, led by Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh.
H&F cut council tax bills by 3% last year and it has just announced that it is doing the same this year.
A press release from H&F (H&F pdf) identifies some of the efficiencies that are helping the council to deliver this second 3% reduction:
Cllr Mark Loveday issued this statement to ConservativeHome.com:
"We were elected last year on basic Conservative principles of lower taxes, better services and cracking down on crime. We are simply delivering on those promises. Two big tax cuts in our first two years is what we were elected for.
But it's much more than that. We have managed to increase our Audit Commision rating to four stars - which means we now offer the very highest standard of services across the board. We are spending millions more on things that really matter - like the first ever New-York style 24-hour police teams that we put into our town centres.
Labour was congenitally incapable of doing these things in the decades that they ran the Town Hall. The waste was incredible. They survived in power by employing armies of taxpayer-funded special advisers. The press department had more PR officers than the number of journalists working on our local papers. The union stanglehold meant nothing was ever market tested. All that has changed over the last 18 months.
It's these simple things which mean we can return money to the taypayer while improving things for residents. That's what the Conservative Party is all about."
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