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Pickles: Conservative Councils – Making Life Better

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2002

We can legitimately take pride in what we have just seen, Conservative Councils and Conservative councillors achieving things for their local community using imagination and flexibility.

Whether it be;

· Satellite tracked school buses,

· Smart card for students,

· Clean streets or

· Care that shows respect for our elderly, our Party is the vanguard of new ideas.

This is the best of local government and gives the clearest idea of what a caring modern Conservative Party will look like - making life better.

Soon, very soon, tantalising soon we will be the largest party of local government in England. Conservative Local Government has recovered.

It is no longer a question of when Conservative Local Government will recover, we have recovered - we are back.

Since 1997 we have gained around 3000 council seats.

But there is bad news - local government that once great bastion of our democracy is in terminal decline. Its powers and its influence are being systematically plundered by Labour. This is no accident. Labour is working to a plan and if you do not fit into this plan you will be marginalized.

Labour is determined to snuff out any spark of life shown by our councils.

Labour is determined to turn your council into Whitehall's poodle.

Do not underestimate what Labour is doing. They not only control how much local authorities can spend, they now control what they spend it on.

Under Labour local means nothing.

If your problem is not on Labour's tick list then that problem does not exist.

Problems are solved by fiddling the figures, changing the goal posts, redefining the problem and if all else fails - Spin.

This Government wants to control everything but can manage nothing. The people who brought you longer waiting lists, grid locked roads, dodgy exam results, now want to micro-manage your local council.

Last week I spoke to a Chief Executive of a County Council, someone who cares deeply about the County and is totally committed to the people in it. Who told me that that instead of working for these people, they are spending 87 hours a week filling in forms for the Government.

This should not surprise us.

Councils today are judged by 145 performance indicators, Have to agree 66 plans with Central Government, Are monitored by 4 different inspection regimes. At the ridiculous annual cost of £600 million.

· That's 10,000 heart bypass operations.

· That's 40,000 student nurses.

· That's 24,000 teachers.

And things are about to get worse for local authorities. Labour has announced that it will take hundreds of millions of pounds away from Conservative Councils and place it in the constituencies of Labour Cabinet Ministers.

Unjust and illogical, and

Pork barrel politics at its worst.

Some counties are going to lose up to £90 million. Figures like that cannot be painlessly removed from budgets - it is going to mean ripping out services many of which will hit the most vulnerable. It will also mean massive rises in our council tax bills.

We can trace the decline in voter participation in local elections directly to the growth in the power of central government.

This cannot be reversed purely through gimmicky schemes like SMS texting and internet voting.

We need to do more…

We need to give people a reason to vote.

A vote should make a difference.

A vote should decide how our communities are organised and run.

Conservatives firmly believe in community government - in which central government gets out of the way and allows diversity to flourish. A diversity that recognises that the needs of our inner cities are different from those of our rolling countryside.

A diversity that recognises that the solutions for the problems in Cornwall might not be the same in Northumberland.

A diversity that recognises what makes our communities different makes Britain strong also unites us all.

Now I don't doubt that there are some people sitting in their cosy QUANGO heaven who are benefiting from the destruction of local government.

Non-elected and unaccountable.

Those same people who will say that they have all this before.

That when the Tories get back we will not want to let go of the levers of power, that we will be happy to replace old cronies with new cronies.

I have a simple message for those people, we will make a bonfire of the QUANGOs.

We will hand power back where it belongs - to the people. We want councillors to use their powers to make a difference in their local communities, to make life better and to be accountable for their actions.

To avoid any ambiguity, I am going to tell you exactly why we are going to do this.

But first let us be clear -

This is not change for change's sake.

We are not going to do it just because it is popular,

We are not even going to do it just because it will strengthen democracy.

We are going to do it because it is the right thing to do.

Because we are determined to transform our public services and to make life better.

We are going to do it, because we trust people.

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