Speech to the Conservative local government conference by Iain Duncan Smith launching the 'Give us our money back' campaign
Conservatives showing the way
On May the first, voters will be electing 11,396 councillors on 350 councils in England and Scotland along with all seats in both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
These elections will be an important test of the people's confidence in the path that the Labour Government is taking this country down.
However, as Conservatives, we understand that local elections are won and lost on local issues.
I announced back in December that our slogan for the campaign would be "Local Conservatives, Local Issues, Local Action". We have three key messages.
First - that if this Labour Government has its way, then voters and their local councils will be forced to surrender to Whitehall more and more of their power to decide their own affairs and run their own communities the way they see fit.
Second - that Labour has abused its power by fixing local government finances to its own political advantage.
Third - that this will provoke a double disaster -- because there is incontrovertible, independently audited, evidence that Conservatives councils do best when it comes to serving and defending local communities, and consistently deliver the best value for money to local taxpayers.
And what we will be saying to this Government - on behalf of taxpayers throughout the United Kingdom - is: "Give us our money back."
Government shows true colours
The last twelve months have revealed what this Labour Government really thinks about the role of Local Government.
The last month in particular has shown us the impact of Labour on council budgets across the country.
Years of effective and efficient financial management by Conservative Councils are being undone through a local government finance settlement that is nothing short of a fiddle.
A settlement that rewards Labour mates in Labour councils.
A settlement that has allowed the government to achieve the impossible - that is, to devise - after long years of deliberation -- a new system that is even more complicated than the last.
And this despite the warning of a cross-party House of Commons Select Committee that the new grants system was "subjective" - for which I think we can read "biased towards Labour councils" - and would lead to higher council taxes.
Labour are reverting to type. They are using council tax to attack middle England. There are now ordinary families, in ordinary homes, who now pay at least £1000 a year in council tax. The average council tax bill has increased by 60% since Labour came to power.
But that's not enough for Labour. They plan to wring yet more money from taxpayers by introducing new tax bands and tax valuations.
And still there's more. Not content with wringing out the taxpayers' pockets; Labour are using regulation and centralisation to put a stranglehold on local councils.
They say one thing and do another.
They talk a great game about localism, and loosening Whitehall's control - when the reality is that local councils are still judged by a barrow load of performance indicators; are still forced to agree a range of plans with Whitehall; and have four different inspection regimes constantly breathing down their necks.
Many of the most severe problems in our schools and hospitals, and on our roads are local problems that could -- and should -- be resolved locally.
But Labour - who have raised control freakery to a government science - won't let that happen.
Instead, they've introduced into Parliament a Local Government Bill that will centralise finance and punish efficient councils by pooling housing capital receipts.
And they've introduced a Regional Assemblies Bill.
A bill whose effect will be to abolish local government almost altogether.
These new Regional Assemblies are not about cutting the powers of Whitehall. They're about sucking power upward, out of local government and local communities. They are, de facto, more Labour centralism.
Labour never miss a chance to introduce more politicians. Given the choice of more politicians or more police officers on our streets, I say: "give us more police officers".
The Government has proudly proclaimed that it will be extending a range of freedoms to some councils - a select few.
Well, what we as Conservatives are saying is, what about the others? Why should they be excluded?
Labour are taking entirely the wrong approach.
All councils should have those freedoms and more - unless they are rotten basket cases like Labour's Hackney.
New Labour sings the song of new localism, when what it really wants is control and centralism.
What we Conservatives want is freedom and community government.
Only a Conservative government will ensure that local councils are able to continue doing what they do best for themselves - preserve and develop their communities, run them efficiently, and deliver value for money to local taxpayers.
Conservatives deliver value for money?
Let me tell you what the Audit Commission reported at the end of last year.
Their data show that local residents are more satisfied with council services in Conservative councils than in councils controlled by either the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats.
And last December's Comprehensive Performance Assessment of councils across England showed that, on average, Conservative Councils had a higher overall service score, and a better performance rating.
More Conservative-run councils were judged to be 'excellent' than for any other political party.
Despite a local government finance settlement that can only be described as vicious, it is local Conservatives who are leading the way in delivering lower taxes, and more value for money for every penny raised.
Conservative local Councils perform better, and deliver more for their taxpayers.
Conservative councils are listening to local issues and concerns.
Conservatives councils are following up and delivering local action.
We are attacking crime and cleaning up graffiti.
Our schools are better run and our roads are safer for motorists and pedestrians.
We are better at helping the environment through more recycling. Conservatives defend our green spaces, and the unique character of our towns and villages.
Unlike Labour and Liberal Democrat Councils that don't collect the council tax and rent owed to them, Conservative Councils do the job fairly and efficiently and are therefore able to charge lower bills.
Conservative Councils have cleaner streets and fewer empty council houses.
This year, the average household on a Band D council tax bill, will pay £135 a year less in a Conservative Council than in a Labour council, and £159 a year less than in a LibDem council.
In fact, Labour and Liberal Democrat councils have the highest council taxes in England - which only reflects years of their financial mismanagement.
The councils with the top 20 highest council taxes in England are all Labour and Liberal Democrat controlled. None are Conservative.
Give us our Money Back
Labour have conspired to rig and fiddle Local Government funding.
Labour have turned council tax into a stealth tax. They have rigged local funding to take resources from away from good councils, and shifted it to their cronies on badly-run councils.
They are forcing councils to ramp up council tax or else cut local public services. They are rewarding inefficiency, and punishing the record of good councils.
This is the ultimate stealth tax - engineered by the Government, but with local councillors taking the blame.
We are the best party at local government because despite rigged funding, Conservative-run councils are still delivering better local public services without charging higher council taxes. But the pressures on council tax and public services are intense.
Which is why today I am proud to be here at the Conservative Local Government Conference launching our fight back because we have had enough.
Enough of this tax, spend and fail government. Enough of this government's fiddling with local government funding.
And I would say directly to the Prime Minister: "Enough is enough".
Local councils deserve a fairer deal, stop robbing them - give us our money back!"
The Liberal Democrats
And as for the Liberal Democrats, well, if Labour are principally the party of more tax and more centralism, the Liberal Democrats are always, and only, the party of more tax.
Charles Kennedy's solution to any problem is take more money from taxpayers.
The alternative budget they sneaked out last week is remarkable only for its failure to list all the taxes Liberal Democrats have promised to introduce.
Behind the spin, the Liberal Democrats are not just another bunch of politicians - they're worse, they say different things to different people; they'll say anything to get them to the next day, or to the next village - regardless of what they said yesterday in the previous village.
Their record on Iraq says it all. One day the leader of the Liberal Democrats is a UN supporter and then he says that it does not have any power. One day he supports the UN route and then he votes against that same route. He says that Saddam Hussein is a threat and then he says that there is no proof.
He is anti-war, pro-war, multilateral and unilateral. And this is from a man who said that, on Iraq, "Being opportunistic does not impress people very much". You are right Mr Kennedy - we are not impressed.
So - take it as a rule of thumb.
No matter what Charles Kennedy and his party say, their policies will produce something very different.
And that's what their record in local government so clearly shows.
Our Party is based on local activism, whether it's the local charity worker or dedicated local councillors.
All over the country local Conservatives are already making life better for people. All over the country Conservative Councils like the ones represented by you have delivered.
Our campaign slogan reflects our position, "Local Conservatives, Local Issues, Local Action".
We know that the future of service delivery is local and we are committed to pushing power down to local people.
But we can only empower local councils if we win Government nationally.
And it's by showing how well local Conservatives are already running local communities that we will show we deserve to be entrusted with the job of governing this country.
We want community government. Local councils should be citadels of community government. Representative of people, defender of villages, protectors of towns and cities. They should not be franchises of Whitehall.
Our electoral fight over the coming weeks will be hard but we will prevail.
The Conservative Party revival is continuing and growing in Local Government with us placed to become the largest party in English Local Government.
I stand here before you as a national politician, the leader of this great party. I know only too well that it is you who deliver the leaflets, do the canvassing, raise the money and recruit the members. These are the thankless tasks you undertake. Too often, national politicians take the headlines whilst you do the hard work.
I would like to place on record today my appreciation - my thanks - for all you have done and are doing. It is you who through difficult times over the last six years have shown the way. You have helped to rebuild our standing in the country.
That is why today I am here to show that the Party nationally wants you to succeed. Not because it looks good for us. Not because it gets headlines.
But because the British people deserve so much better in their daily lives.
Together we can win in May this year, and from there go forward to victory at the next general election.