A few days in Birmingham

Last Sunday week it was off to Birmingham for the annual gathering of Conservatives. I caught the train from Ely arriving at New Street Station for the third time in three weeks. I decided I’d do much better to embrace the new station concourse layout rather than try to get my bearings based on where things used to be and that worked much better. Off to the Hotel on Broad Street and then to the conference. The ICC is a great but equally confusingly layout that takes time to remember where all the halls are.

That evening I was invited to a round table dinner organised jointly by the Stoke Association, Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation. I was delighted to see Cllr. Colette Wyatt-Lowe the chairman of the Hertfordshire Health and Wellbeing Board and my successor as Chairman of the Lead Member for Adult Social Services Network in the Eastern Region there as well. Also there was Cllr. Rob Waltham Cabinet member for the People’s Directorate at North Lincolnshire Council with whom I remarked it’s a s small world and I’d see him shortly as I was to be the Councillor Peer at the upcoming Local Government Association’s Adult Safeguarding Peer Review he and his a team had requested.

Interesting conversations about how those organisations could better engage with Conservative Local and national Government as they seek to influence the Public Health Agenda.

Afterwards it was off to the annual Conservative Councillor Association Reception to chat up with other Conservative Councillors about the coming three days. Speeches by the Chairman of the Party Grant Shapps MP who seems to have moved on from his time judged ‘scout Leaders’ comments of old and then an amusing speech from the DCLG Secretary of State the inimitable Eric Pickles MP.

As others drifted off to the bar I declined and went back to my room as I had an early start to deliver a speech the next day to a Fridge organised by the Swanswell Organisation the national Alcohol and Drug Charity talking primarily about how to curb Drink Driving, so I thought it would be best that should be err…’well rested’.

Annual Conservative Councillor Association Conference in Leeds

Last Friday I packed my bag and left early to catch the train to attend the annual Conservative Councillors Association (CCA) conference at the Queens Hotel, Leeds which conveniently has an entrance right in the station concourse, so it’s a long way but very easy to get to by train!

Cllr. Robert Gordon, Leader of Hertfordshire, opened the one day conference in his role as Chairman of the CCA and was later re-elected along with most of the existing Baord members.

The only change was that Paul Bettison, the Leader of Bracknell Forest was elected back onto the board which was good to see.

The session before lunch started with an opening address by Bob Neill MP and then a Q&A session with him and Greg Clark MP.

After lunch we had the whole local government team of Eric Pickles MP, Bob Neill MP, Greg Clarke MP, Grant Shapps MP and Baroness Hanham; and we got a clear sense of their frustration with Local authorities who have put up their element of the council tax and they did not spare the Police authorities in this criticism, indeed there was much comment about the forth coming Police and Crime Commissioner and how they might be better at getting the police to understand the need to live within their means, than evidently is the case this year.

Mr. Pickles said he was pleased that over 90% of authorities including Police and Fire authorities have delivered a 0%; he went on to say how the more disappointing those such as Surrey were and if they truly thought that was the best way to serve their residents they should have the bottle to put their increases to referendum.

We then went into the breakout sessions and there were lots of interesting sessions discussing everything from Mutuals to the use of twitter:

Learning for the 21st Century – Councils role in Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning.

The localism Act: Innovations, Entrepreneurship and Local Services

Strategic Asset Management – Key to Service Transformation?

Enabling and Encouraging Communities.

I attended the Using Yourcllr.com and Twitter session to learn more about blogging and my use of twitter.

Then I attended the ‘Be a Councillor’ campaign update session which is something I am very passionate about and lead for the Conservatives in Norfolk and Suffolk on.

In the evening Matthew Hancock our West Suffolk MP was the guest speaker at the dinner and spoke of the issues the national government face and the important role Councillor’s play in delivering the very difficult job and message of shrinking the state. He also spoke about the Unions and that Council Tax payers would be shocked to learn that we have salaried staff who we allow to spend time partly or fully undertaking trade union activities and that we should not wait for the Department of Local Government and Communities (DLGC) but to tackle the issue now ourselves.

Afterwards Matthew and I agreed to have an early breakfast and chat about Constituency matters before he left for home, so I arrived at 7am and who was sitting with Matthew, Eric Pickles and whilst we did not get a chance to talk about West Suffolk we did have very interesting hour discussing councils and conservative values, and of course I did not miss the chance to gently lobby the head man on a few thoughts of my own.

More plenary sessions followed and ended with Mr.Pickles giving the closing address talking about the truly amazing chances that are coming with the introduction of the different elements of the Localism Bill not least the removal of pre-determination.

He then spoke of ‘Pilgrims’ and this is what Matthew Hancock was speaking about those salaried employees we allow to spend part or all of their time on Union activities.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this practice but from my perspective I want to hear what Council Tax payers I represent think to the practice before I make up my mind, after all its their money.

All in all it was an excellent quick conference, back on the train and home, did not get to see much of Leeds which is a shame because it’s a great city, that I have visited quite a few times and really enjoyed.

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