My thoughts on the Conservative Councillors Conference
07/03/2010 Leave a comment
Friday morning I caught an early train to London for the Annual Conservative Councillors Conference to hear David Cameron opened proceedings. In a packed room of 350 people he set out the Party’s vision for their relationship with Local Government. After his standing ovation, Caroline Spelman MP took to the floor and put the flesh on the bones and went through some of the finer details of how we are going to change the nature of local government in this country, as did Bob Neil MP the following day. The new relationship has many extremely positive aspects for local government not least the ability to directly gain from commercial and housing development and the ability to raise funding for vital local projects. I like everyone in the room welcomed Bob Neil comments on the Saturday morning that the notion of differences in delivery of services are not as this centralised control freakish Government would have us believe a ‘Post Code lottery’ but more the trust in local politicians to deliver services that actually matter and reflect the aims, needs and aspirations of the communities we represent.
She also expanded on the finer detail about aspects of the recently published Conservative Planning Policy, as did Grant Shapps MP in his excellent after dinner speech in the evening. This is something of interest to me as I have spent my entirely working life dealing with planning and development matters, yes I like most in the 19th Century industrial era attempt to attend to reconnect the old maxim that development brings infrastructure and should be welcomed for its positive effects; I also welcome the proposals that Councils and communities will be directly rewarded to deliver planning permissions for Private developers and Housing Associations by the promise to match fund the Council tax revenues generated by 100% it the case of a private dwelling and by 125% for an Affordable Housing unit, in both cases for 6 years. But to be honest I have some concerns as to the radical approach being taken by the policy proposals, ‘Throwing all the balls in the air simultaneously rarely ensures that they fall neatly into the expect, let alone, the correct, pattern when they hit the ground’ I have unashamedly lifted this comments from the article by Nick Raynsford in the MJ – Municipal Journal 04.03.2010 page 13; yes a former Labour Planning and Communities Minister but he is right in this regard.
A year or so ago I was one of those who was invited to spend the day with the then Housing Minister Jackie Lait MP in Birmingham a year or so ago and suggested some caution that the reform of the planning system must be organic and timed to create a frame work that can deliver housing from the start, I was reminded in a speech by Sir John Major on Saturday night at a fund raising event for Ben Gummer’s campaign to win Ipswich, that this government have managed to create a economic climate in which last year we built less houses in this country since 1942 at the height of the second World War, quite a staggering statistic and an indication of how bad things have become.
If the overriding imperative of an incoming Conservative Government is to cut spending and lower the deficit, the close second must be to get house building moving again; it’s good for jobs, it’s good for the tax revenues, it’s good for business but most of all it’s right and proper that young people can leave home, form a relationship, start a family and live a full life in housing that matches their needs. Then where we get old, once again, we must have the housing that allows us to live independent and rich life.
I know this is my business and my trade but decent appropriate housing is central and fundamental to the life of this nation and needs to be treated as such, decent housing is not an investment, it is not a commodity, it is not a luxury, it is a basic human right.
The second day was kicked off by the always excellent Stephen Gilbert who went through the figures as he does, and you can clearly see that the numbers that matter and are focused on, however the detail to which things are looked at does raise a few questions in my mind, I know the degree to which peoples thinking is analysed, I am just not that sure when you add the sum of the component parts together it is the collective balanced, clinical if you will, view that makes your final decision as to which way to vote. Somehow voting is more organic than that, who do I want to believe?, who do I like trust?, they seem nice, I like her, these are all emotional responses and I think which party to vote for, is as well at least in part.
In 1997 I think what worked best for Labour was not their policies, lets face it they had few, but it was more a feeling they portrayed a new era, a generational jump, ‘Brit pop’ and the third way, wasn’t that quickly dropped for the smoke and mirrors that it was!, and no doubt they analysed to a similar way to the Conservative Party today but its seemed to me that they had at this stage in the run in to an election build a narrative that threaded thought their vision better. Then again today I see a very different time to 1997 and perhaps people are less receptive to the messenger that before.
The conference was closed by the always entertaining and thought provoking Eric Pickles MP, I have met Mr. Pickles on a number of occasions and he was kind enough to be the first year sponsor of the Leadership Centre for Local Governments Next Generation programme, on which I was a part of the first cohort. He is always interesting, thought provoking and has a steely but easy style about him with connects well and speaks in a way that then lets you use his words when out on the door steps.
The next few weeks will be politically absolutely fascinating and I really hope the party can get across the passion, conviction and determination our senior politicians have to sort this country out, if they can get that across then we will win and The Conservative Party can get on with the vital task of sorting out the mess that thirteen years of Labour has left us with.