The end of the conference season and the start of the new Parliamentary term means that ‘Government’ has started again. That presents Lib Dem Councillors with challenges and opportunities.
On Wednesday next week I will be presenting the LGAviewpoint on Elected Police Commissioners to the Home Office Select Committee. The LGA viewpoint is almost identical to ours – we are against them. We have discussed this continually and Lib Dems in local government remain overwhelmingly opposed to them. We are presenting sound alternatives to them which involve a reinvigorated police authority which is fully democratically accountable.
We also continue to be opposed to elected mayors. We have made clear that we do not like Mayors but would not oppose legislation to make referenda compulsory for the 12 big cities before a change took place. We would just campaign for a No vote. What we find particularly distasteful is the idea of a retrospective referendum after the Leader has been made Mayor. This is undemocratic and unconstitutional.
I have discussed this at the highest levels of our Party and find that there is key agreement within the Party on both these issues at all levels. Our MPs, however, are bound by the coalition agreement to support them. Councillors are not. There are no problems within our Party in opposing policies of the coalition government if we do not agree with them. The proviso is that we do so carefully, respectfully and using evidence wherever possible. Even if there had been a fully Lib Dem government there would have been times when we in local government would disagree with colleagues. To disagree properly is to be both liberal and localist!
Next week we will be getting the Comprehensive Spending Review. We will be circulating an update before then and as soon as possible after that. There will be lots of bad news but some good news as well. We will not get full details of the effects on local government until the local government settlement is announced in some three weeks time.
What we should NOT forget is that these are not our cuts. The last pre budget review of Alistair Darling as Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that there would be £72 billion of cuts starting from the 1st April 2011. Alan Johnson, the new Shadow Chancellor, has told us that he broadly supports that position. The cuts had to be made because the government had both a structural deficit on day-to-day spending and an additional large borrowing requirement because of the economic crisis partly caused by their failure to control the greed of bankers. We are cleaning up their mess as we have done in council after council and will restore the country’s finances to good order.
Labour is making much of the speech made by David Cameron in July about the possibility of reducing tenure in social housing to 5 years. I can state with absolute confidence that this will not become legislation. I strongly suspect that what will be introduced is a proposal that will only apply to new tenants and will enable social landlords to vary tenancy arrangements if they so choose with no assumption from government that they should do so.
On 22nd November the Decentralisation and Localism Bill will be published. I believe that Lib Dems will be happy with 80+ of it; we will want to work with government to improve from a practical viewpoint about 15%; and will not like 5%. From what has been published this Bill will massively extend the reach of councils into our communities and further cut down the centralised state and allow us to develop real relationships with our communities. This will be good news and will bring into legislation things that are important to us and on which we have been campaigning for years. Again we will issue a full brief on this as soon as we are able to.
Outside DCLG I have been having meetings with Ministers on:
- Social Enterprises and opening Post Offices with Ed Davey
- Bringing public health into local government with Paul Burstow
- Developing the role of the strategic education authority with Michael Gove
Lib Dems must not be blinded by the financial situation into adopting a position of doom and gloom. Our Ministers in the coalition government are doing a lot of good things and certainly get my support.