We have already published the first installment of answers to the questions you recently posed about local government reorganisation to shadow communities and local government secretary, Eric Pickles. Here is his second set of answers, covering how Conservative councils can be Conservative, local councils’ use of anti-terrorism powers to spy one people, the Conservative revival in the north of England and the regularity of rubbish collections.
His final responses will be published tomorrow morning.
Questions from David Cooper and Deborah: What are your recommendations for strengthening the resolve of Conservative councillors, especially those in authorities that have recently changed hands, to deal with executive officers who either drag their feet over plans for efficiencies and savings or condone/encourage unacceptable treatment of council taxpayers in the name of the council? And how should the Conservative Party deal with those councillors who wore blue rosettes to get elected but who do not follow Conservative principles?
Eric Pickles: I believe in democracy, and as such I think elected representatives should make decisions in the interest of their communities, not unelected and unaccountable officials. The first question I always ask our council leaders is ‘how would your electorate know you are a Conservative council?’ It is surprising how many don’t have an answer. It was the case that some of our Councils were delivering a version of Labour lite – delivering the government’s agenda in an efficient and effective way that you would expect from a Tory council. But the time has come to break the consensus. I recently called on out councillors to "just say no" to the government if a Whitehall proposal wasn’t in the best interests of their electorate. I am delighted that many of my local government colleagues have accepted that challenge. The clear illustration of this is the number of councils who have signed up to our council tax freeze policy. Those Councils make me extremely proud.
Question from david graveney: Do you approve of Conservative Councils using anti-terrorism powers to spy on their electors?
Eric Pickles: No. We recently
pledged to end the abuse and misuse of town hall spying powers. In a
new policy document, we outlined plans to ban surveillance for all but
the most serious criminal offences, to require all surveillance to be
approved by a magistrate, and to make councillors directly responsible
for any authorisation under the anti-terror laws of the Regulation of
Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). People’s privacy and liberty have been
undermined by the disproportionate use of surveillance powers by town
halls. Taxpayers’ money is being wasted on bankrolling an army of town
hall spies acting out their James Bond fantasies. Labour Ministers
claim they are considering new ‘guidance’, yet behind the spin, they
are planning to extend, not retrench, the use of town hall
surveillance. Rest assured, Conservatives will protect the rights of
law-abiding citizens from Labour’s growing snooper state, and change
the law to end this abuse of these state powers which should only be
used to tackle terror and serious crimes.
Question from Wearside Tory:
Eric, as a proud Northerner, what can we do to ensure that the
Conservatives become an electoral force in Northern cities like
Sunderland, Carlisle, Leeds, Manchester and perhaps even Newcastle?
Eric Pickles: We have already made
huge steps forward. We have rebuilt our organisation across the north
and we saw the results of the hard work that has been put in by the
party’s professionals and volunteers in the local election results in
May. We made incredible strides forward by taking control of councils
such as Bury and North Tyneside, and increased the number of
councillors in places like Sunderland. However, there is still much
more to do. The Northern Board, under the stewardship of William Hague
and Michael Bates is helping to shape policies that are relevant and
focused on the needs of our northern towns and cities. However, there
isn’t a silver bullet, and we will only continue to make gains if we
take the north seriously, continue to devote resources and time, and
most importantly, through sustained hard work continue to show voters
in the north that we are worthy of their support.
Question from Jake:
Why wasn’t the Conservative party been reorganised on federal/country
lines years ago and why is it still not now? If there is a Scottish
Conservative Party, a Welsh Conservative Party and, it would seem, an
emerging Ulster Conservative Party, then why on earth is there not also
an English Conservative Party to represent England within an overall
Eric Pickles: I am pleased to say this is well above my pay grade.
Question from NigelC:
Earlier in the year the Conservatives announced that there would be
extra money to fund weekly residual waste collections. The LGA has said
EVERY household in Britain could soon be told to throw out leftover
food in a separate bin as a scheme to reduce landfill is rolled out
across the country. There are a plethora of different arrangements for
waste collection in place. Is some consistency needed or are you happy
with a free for all?
Eric Pickles: Gordon Brown is
making it increasingly hard for families to throw away their waste
responsibly. Despite soaring levels of council tax, local residents are
being hit by cuts to collections, over-zealous use of bin fines and the
prospect of expensive new bin taxes which will push up the cost of
living. Councils are getting the blame for policies imposed by
Whitehall. Conservatives believe that decent rubbish collections are a
vital front-line council service to help protect the local environment
and public health. We reject Labour’s approach of state bullying,
cutting services and higher taxes. That is why we will provide funding
for those councils that wish to introduce proper weekly rubbish
collections, on top of comprehensive recycling services. We will make
it easier for families to go green and increase recycling by working
with households, not punishing them with heavy-handed bin taxes, bin
cuts and bin fines. However, as someone who is a champion of localism,
I of course respect that it is for Councils who are directly
responsible to their electorate to make the choice about services they