Speech to Conservative Councillors’ Association Conference, Oxfordshire
"A CONSERVATIVE REVIVAL
We are at the start of an exciting Conservative revolution in local government.
We are the largest party in local government across Britain. Compare that with the mid 1990s, when we languished in third place.
We chair the Local Government Association, and we look set to chair, if not control, the Association of London Government.
We control more councils than at any time since 1985. But not just in the leafy suburban shires.
We now run or lead councils as diverse Birmingham, Bradford, Crawley, Coventry, Ealing, Swindon and Trafford, to name just a few.
We have a renewed and refreshed belief in localism and devolving power to local people.
And ours is a sincere agenda. - unlike Labour's empty rhetoric on "earned autonomy' or "new localism".
• Under Labour, well-performing councils have not been given the real freedoms that were promised when the bloated CPA regime was introduced.
• Local Area Agreements are a tool of the Government Offices to push forward Whitehall's targets.
• They have presided over the unprecedented expansion of the unwanted and undemocratic regional state, sucking up power from local councils.
• And local councillors are being hindered from campaigning and championing local interests through the disproportionate and discredited Standards Board regime.
Reflecting our commitment to localism, in May's local elections, unlike the other political parties, we didn't produce a manifesto outlining how Westminster will run local councils. We focused on an issue - the environment - which is at the heart of what all councils do.
From climate change to cleaner streets… from cutting waste to cutting noise. In all these areas councils have an important role.
Environmental issues are all about improving our quality of life… to protect and enhance the world around us…an instinct that has been at the heart of Conservatism for generations.
Our environmental commitment was not a passing election gimmick, but will be at the heart of future Conservative policy and action.
We have a great task ahead - to win the trust of the British people and meet the challenges of the 21st Century. One of the ways we can do this is by demonstrating to the public - through our councils - what Conservative government means in practice.
A CONSERVATIVE CHECKLIST
Today I want to outline what I see as our values and priorities, which should inform our councils and councillors, whether in control or opposition.
It is, if you like, a Conservative checklist for local government.
But, it's not about being one way, top down, telling you what to do.
You have campaigned on local issues, you will want to respond to local circumstances, but there are many goals that we all share and it is those that I want talk about this morning.
And over the coming months and year I hope we can really maximise the way Conservatives learn from each other - sharing best practice - with our experienced councillors helping our new administrations turn round the rotten boroughs that we've inherited from years of Labour or Liberal Democrat misrule.
Our first priority on the checklist is to safeguard and enhance the environment.
• The modern, changing Conservative Party is interested in quality of life, not just quantity of money. The environment doesn't just apply to recycling or reducing carbon emissions. Cleaning up litter, fighting noise pollution and making parks and public spaces beautiful are all on our agenda.
• Analysis of Audit Commission figures shows that Conservative councils already have cleanest streets and dominate the league tables for the best recycling and composting rates. Our Vote Blue, Go Green literature and Party election broadcasts featured many of our best councils, but not all. Next year, I want to see an even wider range of councils' work that we can feature and champion.
Our second priority has to be ensuring value for money.
• Conservatives have always sought to be careful with other people's money. Despite years of fiddled funding by Labour, Conservative councils still cost you less. The lowest council tax in Britain is Wandsworth. The highest is Sedgefield - a Labour district council, a Labour county council, and a local Labour MP.
• New council administrations especially should look at scope for cutting back on years of accumulated waste and using zero-based budgeting.
Our third priority is tackling crime and disorder.
• Police authorities and police forces are bound by an ever-tighter leads from Whitehall, especially if police force regionalisation going ahead, threatening neighbourhood policing.
• Yet Conservative councils, working with the police, communities and business, can innovate and help tackle crime and low-level disorder.
• Conservative councils already lower levels of violent crime. Councils like Enfield have set up a dedicated Environmental Crime Unit to remove fly-tipping and remove obscene or racist graffiti, within a day.
• In Guildford, the council has made case law in using the new Licensing Act to tackle the saturation of pubs and clubs along its most dangerous street.
• And in Middlesbrough, independent Ray Mallon's 'zero tolerance' approach and use of community wardens has cut crime by over a third in two years.
Our fourth priority is improving standards in schools.
• A good education is one of the cornerstones of a strong society. It has the potential to be the ladder of opportunity which allows everyone to reach their full potential. We believe that a clear focus on what happens in the classroom is as important to schools, rather than just structural reform.
• We have campaigned on keeping Special Schools open for children with special educational needs, and for the greater use of synthetic phonics to teach literacy.
• Every parent knows that children do best when they're engaged at the right level of ability. That is why setting children by ability in the classroom produces improved results.
• I want to see setting by subject in every single school, and we will keep up the pressure until that happens, for the benefit of all children. For example, Bridgemary School in Gosport has attracted media attention recently for its introduction of a system of mixed-age groups, setted by ability.
Our fifth priority is delivering a new deal with the voluntary sector
• I don't view the voluntary sector in a purely instrumental way, as just another means of delivering public services, or bypassing local councils.
• It is not about who can run which services more efficiently, it's not about targets and management structures. It's about attitude and behaviour; it's about rediscovering our common purpose; our sense of duty; our passion to work together.
• Conservative activists play a prominent and unsung role in voluntary groups the length and breadth of Britain.
• Councils already provide a myriad of grants and support to local groups, from Citizens Advice, to domestic refuges to bowling greens.
• But we should also look at helping social enterprise, not just social action. In every part of Britain, inspiring social entrepreneurs are pioneering solutions to the complex problems of family breakdown, chaotic home environments, drugs, and low aspiration. We trust them to restore respect, and I want to remove the barriers that stand in the way of their growth and success.
My final priority is promoting community cohesion.
• There are those in our society who want to divide our community. As we saw during the local elections, some politicians ineptly help that division by giving the preachers of hate an unwarranted oxygen of publicity.
• As the Cantle report into the causes of riots in Burnley, Bradford and Oldham, we need a new framework to tackle the different communities leading separate lives within the same towns.
• Innovative solutions could include school exchanges, with different countries or just different towns. We need better teaching of English to new arrivals.
• And I want to push forward with a Young Community Action programme. Such a scheme could offer young people the chance to develop their self-esteem and self-respect by participating in community activity at home and abroad after leaving school.
• Croydon council, now Conservative for the first time since 1990, has pledged to help pilot such a scheme.
BE THE CHANGE
These are my priorities to help guide you. Certainly, local councils must respond to local needs and concerns. But I hope by working together we can make real progress that we can report to October's Party Conference, and we can deliver real benefits to showcase in next year's local elections.
Our values mean we believe in trusting people, sharing responsibility, championing freedom and supporting the institutions and culture we share as one nation.
Talking about our values is not sufficient to win the next general election.
We need action not words.
People are increasingly cynical with mainstream politics and Whitehall politicians.
We must demonstrate we deliver on our promises.
We must win back the trust to govern - to win the battle of the next general election.
We must put our values into practice - using our councils to be the change."