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The Government must keep its nerve on localism

Cllr Nick Botterill, Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham, Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell, Leader of Kensington and Chelsea, Cllr Lord True, Leader of the London Borough of Richmond, Cllr Ravi Govinda, Leader of Wandsworth and Cllr Philippa Roe, Leader of Westminster City Council call for more power to innovate on cutting welfare dependency and boosting home ownership

This evening we, the leaders of five Conservative local authorities, will launch a document setting out a bold new vision for local government with a series of new ideas and asks to help to kick-start the economy, increase home ownership and tackle entrenched social problems. They also urge the government to hold its nerve and to carry with decentralisation of powers and freedoms.

The government is mid-way through its term of office in radical public sector reform and the landscape of public services is changing dramatically. GPs are being empowered to better design care around their patients’ needs and public health is returning to local authority control.

The Work Programme has created a single service tailored to the needs of jobseekers and the introduction of Universal Credit will ensure that everyone is better off in work than out of it. The growth of Academies and Free Schools promise greater choice for parents in choosing the best school for their children. The creation of elected police commissioners and new powers for communities to set up parish councils and take new responsibilities will make government more accountable and local public services better.

We believe that local government should be at the forefront of this ambitious programme of reform. Over the past two years, we have shown what can be achieved when responsibility is given to communities. In Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster and Hammersmith & Fulham we have combined £300m worth of services, making our funds go further and improving the lives of residents. In Wandsworth, we have been among the first to expand our approach to troubled families, getting people back into work, breaking the cycle of benefit dependency and helping make families more stable.

Local government has a crucial role to play in maintaining momentum behind the national interest of driving growth and unlocking social mobility. However, the government needs to hold its nerve. Halfway through its term the calls to re-establish central control are likely to increase but this will do nothing to rebalance the economy or increase choice in local public services.

That’s why we are setting out a series of new ideas and proposals to government that would allow local government to assist with the government’s priorities of kick-starting of the economy, reducing the deficit and bringing radical transformation to public service delivery.

For example, local government is key to creating the conditions for growth and ensuring that the next generation have the skills needed to succeed in an ever competitive global market place. That’s why our ideas include an ‘Employability Passport’ that would guarantee every young person a job or further training, and will provide a key tool in driving the recovery from the bottom up. We believe, also, that a company that hires or trains local people should receive a business rate discount, paid for from a reduction in the total welfare budget.

Local government is also central to improving choice in local public services and ensuring everyone, regardless of background, has the chance to rise as high as their talents and ambition allow them. In Wandsworth we are helping residents realise their ambition to own their own home while in Richmond Upon Thames we are helping our young people achieve educational excellence by adopting radical new social enterprise models.

However we should not stop there. We believe that government should give councils the ability to change Right to Buy discounts into deposits for first time buyers. We believe that government should give greater priority to increasing mobility in and around the social housing sector including allowing councils the freedom to deliver their affordable housing targets in the best way possible to meet local demand as well as freeing up the whole funding around housing finance.

These are just a number of the ideas that we are putting on the table as the party gathers in Birmingham. We look forward to the debate. But make no mistake, local government has the appetite, ambition but also, crucially, the experience and know how to make things happen and deliver results. We have come a long way over the last two years. It is now time to go further.


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