Lord Porter is Chairman of the Local Government Association.
I would like to offer my warm congratulations to Theresa May on her election as the Leader of our Party earlier this week and her appointment as Prime Minister this week. I would also like to thank David Cameron for the strong support that he has given to Conservative councillors over the past decade and for his championing of localism and devolution.
For Conservatives councillors it is particularly pleasing to have a former colleague – Theresa served on the London Borough of Merton for eight years – as our new Prime Minister. Theresa is well known to many of us due to her earlier roles as Party Chairman and Shadow Secretary of State for Local Government. Throughout her career in Parliament she has been a strong supporter of both the LGA Conservative Group and the Conservative Councillors’ Association and has regularly attended their events.
The impression that I have formed of Theresa is that she is personable, calm and fully in command of detail. She listens when you make a case but is unafraid to challenge you.These are traits that make her well qualified to be our new Prime Minister and I suspect that she will be a formidable Brexit negotiator.
Conservative Home readers would probably be surprised if I did not use this opportunity to outline some of the key issues that Conservative councillors would like to work with Theresa on over the coming months.
Firstly, whatever your views on Brexit, it will have a profound impact on local government since EU laws and regulations affect a wide range of council services. The LGA has made it clear that local government needs to be at the heart of the debate about what post-Brexit Britain looks like and there should not be a default assumption that powers repatriated to the UK from Brussels will automatically transfer to Whitehall.
Secondly, over the past year we have witnessed considerable progress in relation to the agreement of devolution deals around the country. This is resulting in more powers in key policy areas such as transport, skills and health being transferred to local communities. The LGA has supported areas in developing their devolution proposals and we hope that this process will continue, with both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas benefiting.
Thirdly, following the announcement at last year’s Conservative Party Conference that local government will be able to retain 100 per cent of Business Rates by 2020 – a longstanding LGA ask – the LGA has been working closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government on how this key reform will be implemented and DCLG’s own consultation was launched at the LGA Conference last week. This is a key reform and I hope that we will be able to make further progress over the coming months to allow us to create a business rates system which is buoyant, responsive to local needs and which will promote local growth through incentives.
Theresa May has become Prime Minister at a time of profound change for our country. She has the respect and support of Conservative councillors throughout the country and we look forward to working with her to improve the lives of everyone in this country.