Got back late yesterday afternoon from the Conservative Councillor Conference at Chesford Grange, Warwick, this is a gathering of Councillors from across the county and senior Conservative MPs who are now the team at the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG), Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities, Grant Shapps MP, Minister for Housing and Local Government, Bob Neill MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark MP, Minister for Decentralisation, and Stephen Hammond MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Eric Pickles.
It’s quite a whistle stop day and a half; I arrived with a fellow Councillor Robin Millar who is on Forest Heath District Council and the former PPC for Bangor, very green as we car share to the event or is that now very mean as we need to share the fuel costs!
We arrived to banners, megaphones, lots of protesters and police and security, marvellous what a different being in Government makes! I have been going to this event since I became a Councillor 4 year ago and no one has ever paid any attention to us before. It was amusing to see the slightly shocked looking hotel staff with police on every entrance, don’t think they were used to that!
Anyway checked in, had a coffee and into the opening speech of retiring Chairman of the Association Cllr. Merrick Cockell, Leader of Kensington and Chelsea, as it was his last year and the election for all the officer posts would be later that day, who ended his speech introducing Eric Pickles MP Secretary of State.
Eric said that it was his 33rd CCA Conference and that gives you an idea of his local government background as the former Leader of Bradford City Council, his home town, and his journey as the party has won, lost and now won power again with him very much at the centre of things; He also spoke about the speech he gave 3 years ago, before the financial crash hit, to the same conference and how the predictions he made then were now so very true.
So that’s 2 Eric Pickles speeches in 24 hours, some would say that’s above and beyond but it was fascinating to see the subtle differences in his words from the one to a small group of Leaders, where I was substituting for Jeremy Pembroke, to one to a wider audience of Conservative Councillors.
The rest of the day pasted in a blur of break out sessions and question and answer sessions, I most notable f which was the planning one with Greg Clarke, now I know this is my bread and butter but it was fascinating at the depth of change coming and the real Councillor decision making they want to put back into the process; real decisions’ real democracy delivered at the town and village level. The question is will it work, will it get Britain building the homes we need or will it become a NIMBY’s charter; that will come down entirely to the Leadership that will be shown by Councillor’s in their own Communities.
Anyway then came the drama of the Officers elections, Merrick made another eloquent speech followed by Alan Mabutt’s annual moment announcing the results. He mused on should he change the format to more of a ‘Dancing on Ice’ one but had decided to simply do it in reverse order like the best beauty pageants. Cllr. Robert Gordon, Leader of Hertfordshire County Council and the team of like minded fellow members he had put together and lobbied us on, won and handsomely at that. The new Treasurer Cllr. David Simmons who is the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services at Hillingdon Council is an old political friend and fellow alumni of the Leadership Centre for Local Government 1st year cohort with me four years ago.
It was fascinating how this lobbing and the notion of a ‘slate’ was received by those I talked to during the Conference; some were amused and some were not but it rather struck me that Councillors putting together a team and lobbying, whatever next you would think they were politicians!
Off to my room, quick shower and change, and to the Conference Dinner where I met up with another of the Leadership Centres 1st year Alumni and political friend Cllr. Louise McKinlay who is now Leader of Brentwood District Council; a dinner with the usual Breast of Chicken, an after dinner speech by Caroline Spelman MP Minister for State for DEFRA, a quick drink in the bar and off to sleep.
The following day there were sessions on LEP’s, Local Government Finance, New Homes Bonus, Business rates and various other subjects; a bit dry but if you are in this business of representing your community then important stuff.
In closing the conference Robert Gordon gave an excellent speech as introduction to Bob Neild MP who had kindly stayed to give the closing address. In Robert’s speech he commented on a subject I had discussed with him the night before and came up with an excellent catch phase ‘if we fight the coming election in two tiers it will end in tears’, at lunch I congratulated him on it and said I wanted to use it in one of my speeches and we agreed he needed to patent it!
As we drove back both Robin and I were very mindful of how different a conference the last 24 hours had been; as the Association were now looking to forge the relationship with the Politicians in the Department for Local Government and our Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP; exciting times and I think a time for Local Government to deliver real local governance, different in different areas based on the needs, wishes and aspirations of our communities rather than local administration of central government dictates as has been the hallmark of 13 years of Labour mismanagement.