Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, has written to all Conservative MPs listing the Conservative achievements of his department over the last couple of years.
I wonder if other Conservative cabinet ministers will follow this example. Given that achievements are dull and failures are interesting it is right and proper that the media focus less on the former than the latter. This doesn't mean that achievements are politically irrelevant. Come the time of the next General Election campaign there will be an impact. This will be especially the case for groups of people who could see a tangible difference. Council tenants who exercise the right to buy. Or parents who send their child to a free school. Or those stuck on welfare who found it more rewarding to get into work. Or couples who were able to adopt a child.
There will also clarity at the next election that many of these achievements will be specifically Conservative achievements. That they have have been brought about with the grudging acquiesance of the Lib Dems rather than their genuine help. Some may feel that making this vulgar point is not really in the spirit of the coalition.
However the Lib Dems would hardly be entitled to complain about Conservatives laying claim to specific reforms. The Lib Dems are keen to claim as their own certain popular items of Government policy – such as the pupil premium and raising tax thresholds so that those on the lowest earnings don't pay income tax. This last one is a dubious of Lib Dem ownership. The reality is right wing Conservatives tend to favour much bigger cuts in public spending to allow tax cuts – for which they would be happy to include raising the starting threshold much further.
Furthermore I think it strengthens the coalition to remind Conservative MPs they they are getting some Conservative policies delivered.
Anyway here is the letter from Mr Pickles. I suspect we will be getting more of this sort of communication:
Communities & Local Government: Conservative Achievements
As we approach the end of term, I thought colleagues may find useful some examples of the Conservative policies that the Coalition Government has firmly delivered. We have:
Cut local taxes for families and firms
- Worked with councils to freeze council tax for two years. Under Labour, council tax more than doubled. Under this Government, bills have fallen by 4.4 per cent in real terms.
- Scrapped Labour’s plans for an expensive and intrusive council tax revaluation, which would have meant soaring tax bills for millions of hard-working families and pensioners.
- Abolished Labour’s new bin taxes on family homes, which would have harmed the local environment by fuelling fly-tipping and backyard burning.
- Cut business rates for small firms and small shops, by doubling their rate relief for two and a half years. 330,000 small firms are paying no rates at all thanks to this tax holiday.
- Scrapped Labour’s ports tax – unfair retrospective business rates on firms in ports which threatened to decimate those firms and damage England’s whole manufacturing sector.
Axed quangos, stopped waste
- Abolished unelected regional government. The Regional Assemblies, the Government Offices for the Regions and the Regional Development Agencies have been scrapped. The regionalisation of the fire service has been stopped.
- Axed the Standards Board, which fuelled petty and malicious complaints against councillors and suppressed freedom of speech. The police and courts have new powers to investigate and punish the rare cases of genuine town hall corruption.
- As part of the abolition of the Audit Commission, Comprehensive Area Assessment has been scrapped and its audit contracts are being outsourced. In due course, abolition will save £650 million of taxpayers’ money over the next five years.
- Cutting the Department for Communities and Local Government’s running costs by 42 per cent, helped by transparency and publishing spending online.
- Reduced spending on corporate credit cards by over three-quarters, with every single transaction since 2006 placed online – exposing Labour’s record of waste.
Helped homeowners, supported home ownership
- Reduced the cost of mortgages thanks to the action taken to tackle Labour’s deficit (just a one per cent rise in market interest rates represents £1,000 extra on every family’s mortgage bill).
- Abolished Labour’s expensive red tape of Home Information Packs.
- Increased Right to Buy discounts to £75,000, reversing John Prescott’s stealth cuts.
- Supported home ownership and construction through the FirstBuy (helping first-time buyers) and NewBuy schemes (helping people without a large deposit).
- Prioritised Armed Forces for social housing and first-time buyer schemes; given councils greater freedoms to allocate social housing to local residents who work hard and play by the rules.
- Curtailed socialist powers of the state to seize private property (John Prescott’s Empty Dwelling Management Orders).
Ensured fair play on planning
- Given new powers to councils to resist unwanted garden grabbing, protected the Green Belt and introduced a new planning protection for valuable local green spaces.
- Abolished Labour’s Whitehall diktats which forced councils to hike parking charges and which restricted the provision of car parking spaces in new developments.
- Granted councils new powers to tackle unauthorised traveller sites and scrapped John Prescott’s planning rules on travellers which fuelled community tensions.
- Introduced legislation to abolish regional planning and Labour’s Regional Spatial Strategies.
- Cut planning red tape, making the system quicker, simpler and more accessible to local residents and local firms.
Taken on political correctness
- Allowed councils to disregard a challenge by aggressive secularists to stop the long-standing practice of prayers at meetings (thanks to our new general power of competence for councils).
- Told council officers to stop the gold-plating of equality rules, which demanded that local residents fill out intrusive questionnaires about their sexuality and religion.
- Supported the Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee by cutting Whitehall and municipal red tape on holding street parties.
- Backed British values and identity, flying the United Kingdom’s national and traditional county flags, supported teaching the English language rather than translating documents into foreign languages, and ceasing to appease non-violent extremists.
Devolved power to local communities
- Given councils stronger powers on licensing to tackle the alcohol-fuelled violence that blights our town centres at night.
- Opened up councils’ books with a new era of town hall transparency, with greater local autonomy for councils being accompanied by stronger local accountability.
- Legislated for new community rights to stop the closure of other local community facilities and powers for local voluntary groups to run local services.
There’s much more to come, as the Localism Act powers fully come into effect, as we cut more central red tape, and as we give councils more financial freedoms to help promote economic growth. This Government is delivering on Conservative policies and cleaning up Labour’s mess.
I hope this will help your local campaigning and communications with local supporters.
Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government