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Eric Pickles: Making a real change for the communities we represent

"Are we up for it?

Are we ready to seize the opportunities David is offering us in local government to make a real change for the communities we represent?

After all the years of dependency

After all the boxes we have ticked

Will we replace one over baring centralised control government with another?

Or are we prepared to grasp the responsibilities of delivering a new kind of government?

The status quo is not good enough

Things must change.

A government led by David Cameron does not want to see the local management of services it wants to see the local determination of services

Labour has been clever and calculating with the use of its control regime of targets, ranking of council performance, specific grants and performance indicators has, lets be frank, blurred the differences between Labour and Conservative Councils

It may have tamed Labour's wildness and given a blue rinse to New Labour, but it has constricted Conservative independence and innovation

There are even those who would say that some of our Tory Councils have simply become an efficient arm of central Government

So let's be clear.

Over the next 12 to18 months Labour Ministers must be made to realise their time is running out.

That we have no intention of prolonging the life of a dead duck administration.

We will not help them deliver Labour lite.

But what are our ambitions in local government?

Is it really just to get our 3 or 4 star rating and a pat on the head from the Minister?

Our desire to make change stronger than just delivering the latest LAA?

I know that our ambitions are bigger than that.

I know we want to deliver change.

To make our communities safer, cleaner greener.

We need to take one message away from this conference. A message that will last the journey home, that will resonate in your council chamber and every chamber throughout the land

To get that message there are just two questions we need to answer

(1) What makes my Council Conservative?

Easy to ask but vital to answer

If you are in opposition, ask yourself what you will do when power comes.

But the second and more important question is

(2) How would resident know that they their council is a Conservative Council?

And the answer isn't just lower Council tax, or efficiency savings.

We take that as read - it is just the starting point.

It has to be much more than that.

It is an ethos and an approach -

not crafted from Whitehall or Number 10,

Crafted instead by local Conservative minds; AND more important Conservative hearts.

To deliver the change in society that our nation is crying out for.

We are about to be faced with a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Real sustained devolution, a localist constitutional settlement; we cannot be fooled into any half measures

We must not be fooled again into delivering local management of services rather than locally determined services

We must not be fooled again in delivering what David called Labour Lite

We must take local government out of the hands of administrators and give it back to the people

We have a unique chance

Soon we could have Power across the layers of government.

To have our hands on all those levers of power is an opportunity that we can not afford to squander.

And it is all the more exciting because as David has laid out today, we need Conservative Councils to play the key role in our agenda for change under the next Conservative Government.

But I'm not sure we are all quite ready.

I know that many of you here have been carrying the Conservative flag for many years.

It has been a lonely and difficult task in some cases.

And we have been frustrated on many occasions.

But now is the time for us to throw off the shackles of this authoritarian government with its command and control structures,

To trust our Councils and trust the people you represent.

We have got many ideas to put power back in your hands, and control back in the hands of your voters.

For a start, we are going to dismantle, brick by the brick the city of quangos that grown up over 11 years of Labour.

This government have drained power away from the elected and accountable, to the unelected, remote and bureaucratic quangocracy -

Regional Assemblies,

Regional Development Agencies

The unelected and unaccountable animal that has been spawned under 10 years of this government.

And the beast continues to grow. Currently before Parliament are a new raft of laws which establish yet more quangos that will take more powers councils and give them to unelected bodies - this time power over planning.

The upshot could be unsustainable development, overriding local opinion and harming the local environment.

Gordon Brown's quango du jour include:

• The new unelected Homes & Communities Agency, with powers to seize land, enter private property and act as its own planning authority. It can rip up an area's Local Plan, and impose its own designs and zoning for the locality.

• The new Infrastructure Planning Commission, which will take complete control of planning permissions for large developments like airports, power stations, motorways, sewage plants and hazardous landfill sites: the types of development which rightly concern local people so much.

• And unelected Regional Development Agencies which (outside London) will adopt all the powers of the unelected Regional Assemblies, but with no local councillor involvement. The Government is using its Planning Bill is give these powers to the RDAs.

And Ministers have told us that local councils and democratically elected MPs will have absolutely no say on the appointments of any of these quangocrats.

All three quangos have powers to rip up the Green Belt.

Of course, we all remember John Prescott's famous quote -

"the Green belt is a New labour success, and we intend to build on it",

but it seems John might have been more incisive than we gave him credit for.

Gordon Brown is showing his true control freak instincts with an army of new quangos on the march. These unelected, unaccountable and anonymous bodies will have the say over the future our countryside and local opinion will simply be ignored as irrelevant.

Decisions made, and not a single democratically elected or accountable person involved in the process.

This is obviously what Gordon Brown's meant when he pledged just last May to stop politics becoming a 'spectator sport' and build trust in democracy.

Well if we want democracy and accountability,

If we want change, then we have to make it happen.

To end the take it or leave it attitude that was once so prevalent in Local Government in the 1970's, our reforms concentrated on treating residents as customers.

But a resident is not just that-

They are citizen as well as customer.

SO the next step of localism is to expand the rights of citizens with the same enthusiasm we approached consumerism.

That means rewarding socially responsible actions, offering genuinely local policy options, and creating for the citizen a secure environment.

I know we all believe that power should be returned to the people, so that local communities can decide the right level of development for their area.

That is why we intend to put an end to Labour's top down, centrally imposed house targets, and instead trust in people to decide what level of development is right and sustainable for their community.

That is why I am going to take great pleasure in taking a big axe to Labour's quangocracy.

And an even greater pleasure in handing those powers back to people and to their representatives.

David has already set out earlier this year how we will end the controls on capping and in return for democratically accountability, allow you to set your own priorities for local government spending.

Our plan for Council tax referendum will allow you the choice - if you think your community needs the increased funds a higher Council tax will generate, to go out to your community and convince them of your argument, and make it happen.

But there is more we can do with Local Government Finance.

I'm fascinated by the approach taken by American politicians - Governors and Mayors across the US are all eagerly competing to bring new development and new industry to their towns and cities.

There is no need for Soviet style Housing targets in America, there politicians want development, they want growth

And politicians there go out and make the case for development

They know that new housing and new businesses mean increased revenue and taxes to spend on their electors.

That is what we want to achieve - to give you control, and more importantly, the ability - for your community to benefit from new development and for you and your voters to set your own priorities.

And to have the infrastructure and amenities required building a real community, not a blot on the landscape of ticky-tacky boxes.

Now I'm sure you will all have seen the recent conference we held - snappily entitled "The Post bureaucratic age".

I'm sure you spotted it - a number of local government colleagues attended.

And I'm sure they will be excited at the direction we mapped out at that conference -

Our determination to cut the bureaucracy and central control introduced by this Government

Over the next 18 momths, Labour need to feel our breath on their necks.

To know that the wind of change is coming.

It may start as a gentle breeze,

But by the time Mr Brown has the courage to face the nation, it will have the force of a hurricane.

A hurricane that blows away this tired, worn out pointless government.

To hand back power and control

To dismantle the system of targets, form filling and box ticking

To trust people and trust our Councillors.

Real control and real choice.

But if we are to put our trust in you, we need you to signal your desire and your readiness to embrace these opportunities.

We are offering to tear down the walls of the cage this Labour Government has built around you.

But don't expect me to build you a more comfortable one

- to install an en suite, or central heating.

We need you to be ready to seize the new freedoms we want to give you.

David Cameron cannot make the next Conservative Government success without you.

You are an integral part of delivering good, responsive government.

Of making a difference.

Of giving people back control over their lives.

So I ask you again the question - are you up to it?"

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