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Davis: A fair deal for local communities

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2003

"It's now over six years since John, Tony and Gordon came to power.

And wasn't it nice to see them getting on so well together at Bournemouth last week?

Do you remember how, back in '97, they danced into Downing Street, promising the earth, singing "things can only get better"?

Here it is - Labour's 1997 manifesto.

Here's Tony promising "Britain will be better with new Labour" - and signing that promise.

Six years later, what's that signature worth?

About as much as an IOU from Enron.

Britain - better with New Labour?

Tell that to the patient waiting longer for an operation.

To the businessman, whose new firm is strangled with red tape.

To the motorist stuck in a traffic jam.

To the parent whose kid's school has just had to axe one of its teachers.

Britain - better with New Labour?

Labour's manifesto wasn't wishful thinking.

It wasn't even the triumph of hope over experience.

It was, to coin a phrase, - "sexed up".

This is the original dodgy dossier.

Mr Blair promised, remember, not to raise taxes.

He had "No plans to raise taxes at all".

And six long years on, do you know how many rises there have been?

Sixty.

Pension taxes.

Fuel taxes.

Taxes on marriages, mortgages, and jobs,

And perhaps most pernicious of all - council taxes.

Up under Labour by 70 per cent - for one overwhelming reason.

Because of the way this Government has fixed and fiddled on a scale not seen since Robert Maxwell.

Moving money from good councils,

Usually run by Conservatives,

To bad councils,

Usually run by Labour or the Lib Dems.

Shifting the costs and passing the buck to our hard-working councillors around the country.

That's Labour's new deal for council tax payers.

But council tax payers fought back

Which is one reason why in last May's elections they voted for Conservative councillors in record numbers.

And I'm sure you'd want to join me in congratulating them all.

It's time to give our councils something better.

Not what the Liberal Democrats want.

Not a local income tax

Do you know how much that tax would cost the typical family each year?

£100?

£200?

No - £600 extra, each year, every year, is the cost of voting Liberal Democrat.

We need to re-double our efforts and tie that price tag round the neck of every Liberal Democrat.

Tell voters: put a cross against the name of a Liberal Democrat candidate, and you could end up writing a cheque for hundreds of pounds.

We all know how slippery Liberal Democrats are.

So I'd like to say a big thank you to Charlie, and maybe even raise a glass to him, for giving us a policy that will help us send the Liberal Democrats packing.

But we will deliver something better.

A fair deal for local Government.

That is why I am announcing today a major review of local government finance.

To give councils the freedom to spend money to meet their constituents' needs, not Whitehall's demands.

So: where has all that money gone?

Into better schools, roads, housing, services?

No, of course not.

I'll tell you where it has gone.

I'm sure you're all readers of the Guardian, aren't you?

No? I can't think why not.

I read it every day.

After all, it's important to know what not to think.

Look at its jobs pages, and you'll see the only real growth sector in the British economy - bureaucracy.

Just listen to this - straight from the job advert pages of the Guardian.

Real Nappy Project Development Officer: annual salary, £21,000.

Remember: That's more than a newly qualified nurse is paid.

Here's one I doubt Two Jags Prescott will apply for:

Walking Officer: annual salary, £26,000.

That's more than we pay a newly qualified police constable.

Head of Best Value and Performance Improvement: annual salary, £42,500.

That's what a Police Inspector gets paid.

Executive Director, Customer Engagement and Innovation: annual salary, £95,000.

That's more than we pay the Deputy Prime Minister,

Mind you, with a title like that, he probably wrote the job description. He has a unique way of engaging with customers. It's normally called a left hook.

Across our public services, bureaucracy is out of control.

Why is the number of bureaucrats in our hospitals rising three times as fast as the number of doctors and nurses?

And why is the number of non-teaching staff in our schools rising twice as fast as the number of teachers?

I will tell you why.

Because of the way that Mr Blair runs Britain.

Centralising power in Downing Street.

Control freak government

Government by spin and diktat

Controlling modern Britain

Through targets.

Audits.

Inspections.

Performance assessments.

Public service agreements.

You name it.

They control it.

But this way of running Britain simply doesn't work.

Because just pumping more money into state monopolies only ever has one effect.

Remember Parkinson's Law? The work expands to fill the time available.

Now we have Brown's law. The bureaucracy expands to fill the billions available.

And it's sods law that we all pay.

Local councils don't work if they have to cope with 600 inspection reports and 3000 reviews.

Our hospitals can't work if doctors are forced to treat patients with minor conditions before patients with serious ones.

Law and Order doesn't work if policemen have to fill in forms rather than catch criminals.

Our schools don't work if head teachers have to apply to 47 different places for their money.

And this year good schools who got it right were forced to sack good teachers because Labour got it wrong.

Let's not mince words about this.

It's unacceptable that children should lose teachers just because Charles Clarke can't get his sums right.

The next Conservative government must and will do better.

That's why Iain asked me last year to take control of our decentralisation plans for Government.

To answer the most fundamental questions at the heart of politics in Britain.

Why is it that after billions of pounds have been poured into the public services

That in our worst hospitals, patients are twice as likely to die as in the best?

In our worst schools, pupils are twice as likely to fail as in the best?

A million people are still on waiting lists,

One in five trains runs late,

Personal pensions have halved in value,

And gun crime has doubled?

No-one believes Labour's tarnished promises any more.

So I put together a group of experts to answer this problem.

You've heard from some of them this week.

Oliver Letwin, Liam Fox, Damian Green, Eric Pickles, Gordon Keymer, Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart and Greg Clarke - the talented Director of our party's Policy Unit.

And we produced the book which Sandy told you about

Which has already sold out and been reprinted

The first time this has happened to one of our policy documents, I'm told.

The approach that it outlines

Would fundamentally change the way public services are organised.

At its core are two central principles.

First we should give the citizen, the parent and the patient more power.

And more choice over how State money is spent.

And secondly we should make services more accountable to them.

These are the principles behind our patient's passport,

Which liberates patients desperate to escape from the waiting lists.

These are the principles behind our pupils' passport.

Which liberates parents to send their children to better schools.

More choice and control for individuals.

But we don't just need more choice.

We need to make public services accountable.

Let me give you an example.

Everywhere I go, people say the same thing about their streets:

"We want to see more police on the beat".

They know that too few policemen are on the streets fighting crime

And too many policemen are stuck in police stations filling out forms

Why? Because that's what central government has dictated.

But if we had locally elected police committees, as Oliver announced today,

Then the police would be accountable to their communities.

And you can bet on the result.

We'd see those policemen doing what the public want,

Out of the police stations,

Back on the beat catching criminals.

So we'll make services accountable.

But the professionals will be in charge.

Teachers will run the schools, not Charles Clarke.

Local people will control the police, not David Blunkett.

And if you needed an operation, who would you trust to carry it out -

Dr John Reid…or a real doctor?

We're going to change the way we do business.

We'll get politics out of public services.

The politicians will set the rules. We'll leave the professionals to do the job.

And that's the way it should be.

After all, think of Vodafone, the telecommunications company.

Imagine what Vodafone would be like today if it were run by Geoff Hoon?

But you don't have to imagine it, because not so long ago politicians really did run telecommunications.

Do you remember?

You had to join a waiting list to get a phone.

So we got government out and let enterprise in.

Look at the investment in telecoms now.

Look at the new services.

Look at the customer satisfaction.

So let's liberalise the public sector.

Government will still fund healthcare and education. That's its job.

But we'll hand the government's spending power to you, the users of services.

The result will be a whole new landscape of service provision.

We'll get new investment and ideas pouring in from health and education entrepreneurs.

And we'll get value for the taxpayer.

That's how we'll return to a low tax agenda.

It matters

Because we're a low tax party.

It's time

To give the people Labour claim to champion a choice

The child in a sink estate, the patient stuck in a queue, the social housing tenant

The choice of school or hospital or home that previously they could only have dreamt of.

Labour have yesterday's answer to the last century's problems.

Ours is today's answer for tomorrow's hopes and dreams.

A Conservative vision of society.

I was drawn into politics by Winston Churchill's brilliant description of a Britain in which "there is a limit beneath which no man may fall, but no limit to which any man might rise".

His vision can be summed up in two images - a ladder and a net.

A net below which no one should be allowed to fall.

A ladder which gives everyone the opportunity to climb to the top.

That's the society I want to see.

The opportunity society.

And let me give you an example of one policy that shows the unbridgeable gulf between Labour's control freak state and our opportunity society.

That policy is the right to buy.

Don't underestimate the benefits of this policy.

When some party officials were deciding on the video you saw earlier, they asked me to go back to the estate where I grew up.

I was not very keen on the idea.

We all have golden memories of our youth, but I suddenly thought:

"What if it is awful?

What if the nice place l remembered had gone downhill? "

I needn't have worried.

The gardens were well kept.

The doors and windows were well painted.

The grass was cut.

There was no graffiti.

Now why do you think that was?

Fully 60 per cent of the people had bought their own homes.

But notice, I didn't say that the estate was 60 per cent nice.

That the grass was 6O per cent cut.

That it was 60 per cent graffiti free.

No. Everyone gained. Everyone contributed.

Not only the 60 per cent who owned their own homes, but the 40 per cent who didn't.

They benefited too.

Everybody enjoyed that better environment.

And that is the Tory way,

Helping people to help themselves and help their communities.

But it's not the Labour way.

It was in this very hall last year that John Prescott announced that he wants to bring right to buy to an end.

He got a huge ovation from his socialist friends.

And why?

Because Labour hate the Conservative policy which ensured that millions of people had the opportunity to buy their own home,

And already, John Prescott has effectively destroyed the right to buy in London.

Since Labour cut the discounts, the number of applications has plummeted.

There's now barely more than one application a day for the whole of the largest city in Britain.

Labour's politics of envy

Is shattering the hopes,

Of hundreds of thousands of Londoners.

Last year, I announced we would create a million new homeowners.

This year, due to Labour's vindictive policies, our challenge is greater.

So today I can announce:

That we will put a stop to Labour's politics of envy,

Give back to council tenants in London what is every other council tenant's birthright

And reinstate the right to buy.

Labour's policy of destroying the right to buy demonstrates their deepest instincts.

They don't want to give more people more power.

They want to give more power…to more politicians.

Because we know what Labour's plan for more local control is,

More politicians in new regional assemblies,

And the end of real local government.

We oppose regional assemblies

Not just because Labour plans lavish and expensive new regional government buildings

Which will do for local identity and value for money

What the Millennium Dome did for national identity and value for money,

But because,

Regional assemblies would merge together the diverse and different interests of Blackpool and Manchester; Hull and Halifax; Newcastle and Hexham.

But don't worry

Apparently all will be well

Because our master in Downing Street will kindly allow us referendums for these assemblies.

Here we go again.

We've had referendums in Scotland and Wales.

Referendums in London.

Referendums for Mayors.

Referendums for Monkeys.

But on the one issue on which everyone wants a referendum, on the European Constitution, our master in Downing Street will decide.

Well I say this to him

On the European constitution:

Let's have a referendum

And let the people decide.

Mind you, would you trust this Government

To hold a fair referendum?

If you think I'm exaggerating

Just look here in the North West.

If every voter in Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria - every single one - voted to keep their counties, they could see these counties swept away on the back of the votes of Liverpool and Manchester.

Riding roughshod over historic communities cannot be true democracy.

It's a denial of local democracy, and it is wrong.

We are the only party to oppose regional assemblies.

We reject them because they will pull still more power to politicians and bureaucrats.

Because they stifle economic development rather than fostering it.

And because they send a clear message that this Labour government puts more trust in politicians than it does in people.

So I guarantee you this today.

That wherever Labour proposes them, the Conservative Party will fight them,

Every inch of the way.

When Mr Blair first was elected people thought he would do something for the country.

They believed him when he said he was a pretty straight kinda guy.

How different all that is today.

We all know that from the people we meet and serve.

They're disillusioned.

They've run out of hope for this government.

Above all, they've run out of trust.

But it's not enough for them to fall out of love with Blair.

After all, everyone's doing that.

People desperately want to hear a positive alternative.

This is our opportunity, and we must take it.

We must set out a vision for the country we want to see.

A country where everyone has the choice of high quality healthcare, whatever their means.

A country where every parent has the choice of school, wherever they are from.

A country where every street is safe, wherever you live.

A country where opportunity and choice are extended to everyone.

This is the country I want to see.

A nation of freedom, opportunity and choice.

Conservatives are not afraid to say that the way we've organised public services for 60 years is fundamentally flawed.

We're not afraid to break state monopolies and challenge vested interests so that we can let enterprise in.

We're not afraid to say the days when we believed that spending was the only answer are over.

We're not afraid to take power back from the state and give it to the people, where it belongs.

We're not afraid to say that if we want to give people genuine choice and opportunity we have to tax them less and set them free.

We're not afraid, because these are our beliefs.

They are the principles that have underpinned our great party for two centuries.

They made it the longest-lasting, the most successful political party anywhere in the world.

And when we share this vision, and speak with conviction, and offer the hope of change, people will believe us.

So let's get out there and tell people.

There is an alternative

We are the alternative.

The Conservative Party.

The Party that will get the job done."

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