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Pickles calls time on the trade union "pilgrims"

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is always going to be a star turn at conference with his capacity to ridicule his opponents and to communicate his message with straight talking common sense.

His speech was also heavy with policy announcements, albeit many of them well trailed in the media over the last two or three days.

It will not have been lost on Conservative activists attending the Conference in Manchester that the noisy trade union demonstration will have been partly organised and attended by those thousands of people employed full time by the taxpayer as union officials. The cost of these pilgrims to central and local government comes to £250 million a year. That is not a trivial sum. The Labour Party regarded it as an alarmingly large amount to spend restoring weekly bin collections. So doubtless they will agree it is a useful saving to help keep libraries and Sure Start Centres open?

Pickles said:

"If unions want to raise money for Labour - do it in your own time, not on the rates. We're going to call time on this last closed shop."

The attack on the decadent culture of waste under the Labour Government was biting:

Take the example of Labour blowing £5,000 on my department’s officials having a staff away day at a club.

Not a working men’s club.

Not a Pall Mall Gentlemen’s Club.

No, a different kind of gentlemen’s club –

A club which features Showgirl Sensation Amber Topaz and her exotic chum, Lady Beau Peep.

I’ve never thought of the civil service as lost sheep,

And I’m not sure why they flocked to that establishment.

No more – I’ve cancelled these plush away days.

Labour Ministers were at it too.

With their corporate credit card – the so-called “Government Procurement Card” –

Labour and their staff wined and dined at the finest restaurants at your expense.


The Cinammon Club.

The Wolseley.

And in the very heart of Prezza-land, close to the mouth of the Humber... Mr Chu’s China Palace.

Unlike Labour, I pay for my own Chicken Chow Mein.

We are clamping down on the abuse of government credit cards and opening their spending up to public scrutiny.

Transparency will help councils save billions through better procurement, joint working, and driving out waste.

While Shadow Cabinet Ministers such as Douglas Alexander and Caroline Flint declare that Labour must be aspirational and pass the "conservatory test", Pickles reminded us that far from freezing Council Tax a Labour Government would have pushed it up with a snooping Council Tax revaluation that would have punished those that built a conservatory.

There was a robust defence of the streamlining of planning bureaucracy and a call for lower Business Rates. I was also pleased at the explicit tribute to Margaret Thatcher in his declaration about reviving the right to buy. There was also a clear message that more would be done to stop illegal traveller sites such as the one at Dale Farm.

The speech was packed. But Pickles is a busy man.


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