Congratulations to Cllr Gary Porter who has been elected unopposed as the next Chairman of the Local Government Association.
Cllr Porter is also Chairman of the Conservative Councillors Association and the Leader of South Holland District Council.
One of things I like about South Holland District Council (which includes Spalding in Lincolnshire) is that each year it cuts its share of the Council Tax. The cut is modest – half a per cent here, a quarter of a per cent there. But a cut has taken place for four years in a row. Only very few councils have achieved that. Perhaps four or five out of the 433 councils in the UK. There’s my own council of Hammersmith and Fulham. There’s Windsor and Maidenhead. A couple of others. We are the one per cent!
I also approve of South Holland maintaining weekly refuse collections. This is (or should be) a basic service – but one that most district councils fail to maintain.
The council has been innovative in promoting shared services with other authorities to save money and championed the “Big Society” in the way it has worked with the voluntary sector. For instance with cleaning up the River Welland.
Attractive and affordable new housing has been helped by embracing Community Land Trusts in the village of Pinchbeck.
Indeed often the developments have been beautiful – such as the one pictured built in junction with Broadgate Homes.
Last month the Conservatives in South Holland gained seats from an already strong position.
So Cllr Porter leads a good council.
The irony for Cllr Porter is that the LGA acts as a trade union to defend all councils good or bad – as I observed seven years ago with regard to its revolting misjudgement in going into bat for Haringey Council over the Baby P scandal.
We have been here before.
A previous Chairman of the LGA was Cllr Merrick Cockell who was also Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council. As LGA Chairman he would go along with the pretence that councils were doing “everything possible” to be efficient and innovative and that anything further from central government in way of spending cuts would be a disaster. Yet as a council leader he would prove himself wrong. He would ensure that his council was far more innovative and efficient than most others and that it would manage to absorb grant reductions while maintaining (and indeed enhancing) the quality of its services.
The LGA (drastically slimmed down) could have a useful role to play in championing localism and sharing good ideas. That would require a dramatic change. It would mean a clear out of all the dishonest special interest group whining from the current army of policy officers, press officers and lobbyists currently residing in the expansive Smith Square offices.
It would instead mean providing genuine value for money in return for the hefty membership subs that local councils pay (plus the £25.5 million of taxpayers money inexplicably provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government).
To achieve the scale of change needed at the LGA will not be easy. It may be helped by economic reality – it is becoming ever harder for each local authority to justify the thousands of pounds each year they hand over.
In any event the prize is not just about money. At present the LGA is a force for arrogance and for excusing failure in the “sector”. If it instead became a champion of accountability, of new ideas and of best practice then we could all have the chance to benefit from better local services.