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Pickles: Local Conservatives, Local Issues, Local Action

Speech launching the Conservative local government manifesto for the 2003 English local elections, at the CCA Conference in Coventry

Introduction

This has been a bad year for anyone who believes in local democracy.

A bad year for anyone charged with providing local services, and a very bad year for anyone who believes fairness is an important component of local Government

This Labour Government came in promising the world to local government. A new relationship, a new partnership; to use John Prescott's favourite expression local government was to experience a "step change."

We have experienced a step change of a sort; the kind a footballer feels when a boot slowly descends on his windpipe.

Week on week this government has placed new burdens on local councils. These burdens have had three characteristics:

· a shift away from local determination;

· a high emphasis on red tape; and

· an absence of funds to pay for it.

The costs on Local Government are of the inspection regime are estimated to be one billion pounds.

This Government has promised so much and betrayed so much more. Culminating in this year's fiddled local government finance settlement, with the largest increases in council taxes ever.

Labour thought it could set up others to take the blame for its own sordid deals: it was wrong.

Conservatives Fighting Back

This rotten government gives us something to fight against. Over three days this week we officially launch our campaign for May 2003.

You have just heard from Theresa, our Party Chairman, who yesterday launched our Internet campaign.

Our Party successfully adapted to television as a campaign tool in the 1950s. With more and more people using the web as their primary source of information, it is important that we master the Internet as a campaign tool. Make no mistake each year it will grow with importance

With an Internet council tax calculator whether living in Coventry or Brentwood or Bradford can find out how much your council tax has increased under Labour.

We have even made it Prescott friendly: old two jags can simply type a postcode and he can find the Council Tax in anyone of his four homes.

Tomorrow morning our Leader, Iain Duncan Smith, a good friend to local councillors arrives at our conference to launch the 'Give us our money back' campaign.

He, like me, passionately believes that communities we represent are the victims of a partisan, vindictive and unjust local government finance settlement.

Ordinary decent families, in ordinary homes will have to pay more because they don't fit in with New Labours "Project."

Last year in December when the draft settlement was released I said that it was disastrous for local government. I said that councils would either cut services or raise council taxes.

I modestly predicted a 16 per cent increase over two years and the arrival of £1000 Band D council tax bills.

In fact, I was wrong. It looks like the average Band D council tax will actually be over £1100 following a five time the rate of inflation increase of 12.9 per cent in one year alone.

Except for a few Labour stooges, no one believes this settlement to be fair.

Some authorities with an inadequate Education settlement face the double whammy of:

· if they don't passport the money designated across they face the wrath of the Secretary of State for Education; and

· if they increase the Council Tax to make good Labour's promise they face the prospect of being capped by Mr Prescott.

Talk about being caught between the pug ugly and the cor' blimey: I am sure you can work out which is which

In a way it matches the double whammy the ordinary voter faces: In just over a month's time the first extortionate Council Bill hits the mat, at the same time the effects of the Chancellor freezing personal allowances and the 1% increase in National Insurance will be felt.

Campaign 2003

Today we launch our manifesto on "local conservatives, local issues, local action".

By showing what Conservative councils are already achieving across the country we can show our communities that we are the only true local party.

We can be proud of our achievements in local government. We can be proud that despite everything our councils deliver lower council tax bills and provide better public services.

Our friends in the Audit Commission revealed in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment that on average Conservative councils had a higher overall service score and a better performance rating.

More Conservative councils were judged to be 'excellent' than Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

Local Conservatives, Local Issues, Local Action - Safer Streets

With Conservatives campaigning nationally for more police on the beat local Conservatives are taking great strides to remove young people from the conveyor belt to crime.

The Conservative controlled Great Yarmouth council has introduced a mobile CCTV scheme to reduce disorder and vandalism around the Borough. New town centres 'Rangers' are reducing crime and the fear of crime by working with local shops via a radio link network.

Street lighting is effective in reducing crime with Conservative councils, according to Audit Commission figures, spending more on street lighting than councils controlled by other political parties.

Local Conservatives, Local Issues, Local Action - A Clean Neighbourhood

Rising landfill tax in conjunction with poorly drafted European Union regulations adopted by the Government has lead to soaring fly tipping. From the people who brought us abandoned cars, that so magically light up the countryside at night, we now have the joy of the abandoned fridge-freezer.

Abandoned fridges have become so common in my part of Essex I have started to navigate by them: turn left at the Hotpoint, straight on by the Hover and turn left at the second Zenussi

Conservative Councils are leading the way in cleaning up streets, clamping down on litter, fly tipping and the scourge of graffiti. Why? Because if you cannot keep your streets clean you cannot respect your citizens

Audit Commission data that shows local residents are more satisfied with the cleanliness of their streets and waste collection services in Conservative Councils than the others.

If you want to see the problem of abandoned cars tackled effectively look no further than Chichester District Council. Working with the police, the council targets abandoned cars using information from the DVLA and PNC databases.

Local Conservatives, Local Issues, Local Action - Protecting your Environment

Conservatives are natural conservationists. We are committed to preserving and enhancing the countryside for the future. We know that care for the environment starts at our front door.

With John Prescott forcing a series of regional housebuilding targets Conservative councils are working hard to defend the greenbelt from unwanted and unbalanced development.

Only Conservative councillors on the South East and South West Regional Planning Authorities have consistently voted against the regional housebuilding targets imposed by Whitehall.

These national and regional housebuilding targets must be scrapped.

Local Conservatives, Local Issues, Local Action - Your own Home

Conservatives strongly believe that everyone should have a place to call home.

Yet, since this Government came to power, homelessness has risen with use of inadequate bed and breakfast accommodation trebling. At the same time the level of new social housing has fallen.

Conservative councils have fewer houses lying empty according than other Councils. We are working with the voluntary and private sector to make housing easier to buy and rent.

Conservative controlled Waverly is developing small affordable rural housing developments in conjunction with the Rural Housing Trust.

Conservative councils will stand up for the right of long standing tenants to buy their own and will continue to oppose John Prescott's mean spirited vendetta against right to buy.

Local Conservatives, Local Issues, Local Action - Moving Streets

Everyone knows that our transport system is in chaos. We have cluttered roads, crumbling rail services and delays to badly needed road improvements.

Conservatives recognise that good quality public transport is a key element in serving our communities. It is our councils like Surrey where one hundred, specially built school buses with satellite tracking, which enable parents and schools to track where pupils are. It is only through confidence measure like this that we will see a return to school transport and an end to the school run

Local Conservatives, Local Issues, Local Action - No Child Left Behind

Conservative Councils are working to ensure that no child is left behind.

Schools in Conservative LEAs are the least likely to be placed in special measures and in fat achieve the highest pass rates and GCSE point scores.

Believing in a tolerant, free, and independent society we are proud of Conservative run Wandsworth in London where it has supported a new voluntary-aided Muslim primary school, adding further choice to the range of and diversity of local schools.

Local Conservatives, Local Issues, Local Action - Helping the Vulnerable

Sadly under the current Government, people are waiting longer to get into hospital and be seen by Accident and Emergency Departments.

The number of care home places has plummeted by 60,000 meaning more people are waiting longer for a place in a care home.

Conservative councils have the highest average ratings for their social services as graded by the Social Services Inspectorate.

Hampshire County Council has launched the Country's first 24 hours social services support hotline to provide expert advice, information and assistance in the same round the clock

With a care crisis facing all councils across the country Hampshire is also providing 500 new care beds.

Conclusion

As promised last year, we have launched a review of local government with a Taskforce for Community Government chaired by David Davis.

With myself, Oliver Letwin, Damien Green, Sandy Bruce Lockhart, Gordon Keymer and Liam Fox we are looking at ways to empower the community to allow families and individuals choice, freedom and independence.

Labour litany is the power of a clipboard wielded by a bureaucrat. By contrast, the Conservatives credo is the power of a ballot yielded to the voter.

This goes to the heart of what we are

It is a shock when I realised in preparing for this speech that it is nearly a quarter of a century since I first became a councillor. During that period I made friends that stood the test of time, I learnt things that have stayed with me for life.

I may of learnt politics in the youth wing of our Party, but I learnt civic service or more particularly civic duty in local government.

I have a friend who was a member of the House of Representatives in the USA he had a saying, "If you don't like the folks you should not be in the business."

Twenty-five years ago my ward colleague put it to me more prosaically, "We all serve at the will of the people."

The people sometimes can be demanding;

· Sometimes unreasonable;

· Occasionally unforgiving

But they are entitled to be difficult because they have given you their trust. In turn you must trust their judgement

So, if anyone asks you what makes Conservative local Government different from the rest? Look the square in the eye and say with pride, "We, the Conservatives, trust the people."

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