07 July 2007

Local Government Association Conference

Not really posted much this last week because I was away at the LGA Conference. It was an interesting few days and I would like to have blogged about it - but it was difficult to fit it in.

The week started on a high because of the news that Eric Pickles had been promoted to the Conservative Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government. He is a good friend to us over here in Fenland and has visited on a number of occasions, largely because of his links to our Leader and ex-Conservative Party Agent, Geoffrey Harper. I am pleased for Eric, he is a great down-to-earth up front politician, the sort we need more of. I am pleased for Local Government too; Eric gets what being a Councillor is about, he will certainly make sure the Department he shadows are kept on their toes.

The major speeches of the week were really about the Conservatives and the Labour Party trying to out-localist each other. From my perspective the Conservatives won hands down. Now, I know I would say that anyway and also that cynicism gets in the way because of the way New Labour has behaved since 1997. However, I think my thinking goes a bit deeper than that. The Labour Party's answer to localism is to pass pots of funding down to grass roots and cut back on targets - all that is welcome and good news (if it happens) but it is only half the answer. The Conservative approach is to pass as much decision making as possible down to the grass roots, almost to challenge National Government to justify retaining power at the centre.

It is far and away the better way forward. The way Local Government has embraced the efficiency agenda when Central Government has languished as its old inefficient, over-bureaucratic self is pure evidence of where the quality and efficiency lies in our system.

I recognise it is easy for an opposition to take the high ground in this area, but I hope and believe the Conservatives mean it. I am sure Eric Pickles does and David Cameron has been close to this agenda since Day 1 of his leadership campaign.

By the way, Simon Hughes spoke to the Conference. He managed to claim that the Lyons report said something it didn't. A typical Lib Dem speech really.



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