Cockell Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell explains why he is standing for Chairman of the Local Government Association

I’m standing for LGA Chairman because it’s time for a fresh start with an invigorated leadership of the Association and its Conservative Group.

I believe in locally accountable public services and local leadership. But for local government not to be subservient or susceptible to divide and rule by national government it needs a representative body capable of speaking with a strong and united voice. And it needs to show value – for money and in its activities – so that councils want to be members and gain from acting together.

For some, mainly Conservative-led, the reverse has been true and they have left or given notice. A fresh approach is needed urgently.

We need to:

  • Get on the front foot, building on the popular support of May 5th.
  • Show local Conservatives making the right choices for the country and local government.
  • Dominate the media with Conservative voices speaking for local government.
  • Be more confident and assertive.
  • Give the LGA a strong and united voice under Conservative leadership.
  • Shake up the LGA and Conservative Group. Bring transparency and democracy to both.
  • Make the LGA an accountable membership body, akin to a trade association.
  • Be demanding of Government.
  • Be demanding of local government.
  • Strengthen good relations with all parts of our Government.
  • Restore the LGA to its proper place in government.

On 5 May the losses predicted for us failed to materialise; in fact, we won the popular vote and made net gains. Despite the media and our opponents’ attacks, the electorate broadly supported us in taking tough decisions for the long-term benefit of our country. In some areas, particularly cities, this was not the case. As a Party, we need to identify the reasons and the additional support needed.

Travelling around the country, I’ve seen Conservatives making the right choices for local public services; I’ve seen new ways of working that focus funding on essential services while reducing operational costs. However, too often, local government is portrayed as merely reactive to events, and defensive when challenged; that must change.

I am not an LGA insider. I’ve never stood for any LGA executive position but I’ve long been an interested and sometimes concerned member. Too many Conservative Group Leaders have told me that the LGA and our Conservative Group isn’t delivering for them; that the old ways are simply not good enough. These views are held in every region and tier; where councillors seem less concerned about time-served or where you come from than identifying a new and keen eye determined to get our house in order and fight for local government.

Now we’ve a great opportunity for real change whilst building on the welcome reductions in membership subscriptions and the current staff cuts.

Both the LGA and our Group need to change to better meet the challenges and opportunities that come from being the largest party in local government and leading the Coalition. I’d work closely with the new Conservative Group Leader and positively with the other parties; my record of change at London Councils shows I can work with others on divisive and difficult issues to deliver results for those we serve.

The LGA Chairman must take every opportunity to speak for local government and make our voice heard. Being London-based and media experienced I will do that – and I will do so unapologetically as a Conservative politician.

The LGA is a membership organisation and needs to be accountable. Being closer to a trade association than a Council, the LGA must cut its cloth accordingly; especially when it comes to the role and salary of its new Chief Executive and others.

Transparency may have come to our councils but it’s yet to reach the LGA. Too few are involved in setting policy or accepting collective responsibility; too many members feel disconnected from Smith Square. We don’t need more meetings; we need better meetings with a clear purpose that justifies their time and expense. We need to use cost-effective video conferencing whenever possible to bring far-flung council leaders together more easily to discuss the issues that matter to us all.

Regular emails and publications have their place, but nothing beats getting out visiting councils and meeting councillors personally. I’ve been doing that over recent months, just as I did leading the Conservative Councillors’ Association. As Chairman I would spend several days a month visiting LGA
members and I’ll be just as interested in the work of smaller councils as with the largest cities.

Sometimes local government will strongly disagree with Whitehall. Sometimes disagreements will be public and strongly felt but however legitimate, there will be times that the Conservative LGA Chairman must to be able to deliver clear messages to our Government at the highest level, in private and assisted by long-standing relationships. And those relationships need to extend beyond Eland House to all departments impacting on local public services.

If the LGA Chairman has to be demanding of government there’ll also be occasions for being demanding of local government. Sometimes local services will fail, and the LGA must not defend failure. We must sort out problems for ourselves rather than looking to others for solutions.

Localism offers great opportunities; if we’re to challenge and change how we provide services in this tough financial climate, we must seize them. A key task for the next LGA Chairman will be ensuring that the devolution of central power to councils and from councils to communities delivers freedom, fairness and greater value for money. And the LGA should lead by example.

Difficult times still lie ahead of us. We need the LGA to be a strong and united voice. I relish the challenge of restoring the LGA to its proper place in government.