Conservative Home

« When should councillors be deselected? | Main | Say no to the super sewer »

Championing Localism

Margaret_eaton2_lga_homepage Former Bradford Council leader Cllr Margaret Eaton was elected Chairman of the Local Government Association in September. Here she explains her role.

I think it is fair to say that my first few weeks as Chairman of the LGA have been a baptism of fire rather than a honeymoon.

The Icelandic banking crisis has dominated the news over the past fortnight and we know that 123 councils are affected (with investments totaling £920 million). 

As Chairman of the LGA I have led our response and been directly involved in the efforts to ensure the best possible outcome for the authorities affected. 

Discussions with the administrators have been encouraging. They have indicated that the book value of the assets of each business appears to be similar to liabilities, although it is too early to give exact figures.

Questions have quite understandably been posed about why councils invested with these banks. These must be addressed but it is also the case that these institutions had relatively high credit ratings until very shortly before the crisis began. The LGA has called for an enquiry into the advice given to councils by credit agencies. 

Looking beyond this immediate issue, I would like to use this forum to briefly outline my ambitions for the LGA and for local government as a sector. 

One key lesson from the past decade is that successful governments do not try to control everything from the centre. 

Councils need to be treated as equal partners and not as instruments of Whitehall; they have a pivotal role to play in delivering solutions to many of the problems that we face, such as caring for an ageing population, combating crime and extremism, delivering quality housing, tackling climate change and regenerating our cities. 

These issues form the core of our Putting People First Campaign. There is a wealth of information about this (and the various mini campaigns) at www.lga.gov.uk  Here you can also find out about our Smith Square Debates which offer an opportunity to explore in detail how localist solutions can address the big issues of the day.

As LGA Chairman it is my job to push this agenda forward, to argue the case for local government as a sector and to represent the interests of our member councils.

No party has overall control of the LGA (although the Conservative Group is the largest bloc) and the fact that we have a Labour Government means that we have to deal constructively with them in order to try and get the possible deal for our members (the Icelandic banking crisis being a prime example of this).

Clearly this poses challenges for me as a Conservative, as it did for my predecessors, Lord Bruce-Lockhart and Sir Simon Milton. The six years I spent leading Bradford Council, a politically hung authority, has proved to be rather useful training. 

My approach is a simple one which will also apply to a Conservative Government; when the Government does something that benefits our members (such as reducing the number of central targets and indicators) I will acknowledge it. Equally, I will not be afraid to speak out when it acts against the interests of local government.   

A prime example of this is its determination to impose ‘Eco Towns’ in a number of areas despite strong opposition from local communities and their representatives. 

The LGA has been very vocal on this issue and will continue to be so as long as the Government pursues its plans against local wishes.

Local government finance is of course an area of concern to all councils and to all council tax payers. The LGA has been particularly vocal on this issue in recent years and a number of our campaigns have gained widespread coverage.   

Whilst acknowledging the economic benefits that come with immigration we have clearly demonstrated that the influx of migrants and associated demand on services has resulted in increased costs for many councils which have not been properly reflected in funding from central government. An ongoing area of concerns is the accuracy (or lack of) in ONS population figures, upon which funding is based.

To highlight just a couple of further examples, the LGA has vigorously lobbied the Government on the need for concessionary fares to be properly funded funding and we also remain very concerned about the continued underfunding of adult social care – a problem that will only increase as the population continues to age. 

It is when it is campaigning on these issues, which directly affect its members, that the LGA is at its best and under my Chairmanship the pressure will be maintained.    

As LGA Chairman I am accountable to our member councils. I know that there is a perception amongst some that the organisation it is too London-centric, although I hope that, given my background, this is not something that I will be accused of.   

Out of necessity, much of the LGA’s work does take place in Westminster since that is where much of the governance of the country is based. 

However, under my Chairmanship the LGA will be a body that represents and speaks on behalf of all councils regardless of tier, size or geographical location. 

The LGA must also ensure value for money for the subscriptions paid by member councils, particularly with the pressures we all face on our budgets.

I believe that there is no substitute for visiting councils and I will ensure that much of my time as Chairman is spent directly engaging with our members in order that I am fully aware of the issues that are affecting them and their residents.

The local government page on ConservativeHome is a very useful resource and I look forward to providing further updates on my work in the months to come.

Comments

You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.