Burbage Cllr David Burbage, the leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, reflects on the local elections and last week's Conservative Home Local Government Conference.

Under David's leadership the Council has showcased many radical initiatives from spending transparency to incentives for recycling. A really pioneering council.

Our track record at the Royal Borough, and hard work during the election campaign and for the previous four years saw our share of the vote, and our seat count rise significantly on May 5th.

Opposed by a very negative Liberal Democrat campaign, residents gave their verdict by removing 14 out of their 15 councillors, leaving a single councillor in post – hanging on by a coincidental 14 votes. There are now 51 Conservative members.

I highlighted four important areas that have both secured our national reputation and ensured local recognition as a leading Conservative local authority.

1. Transparency.

Our £500 publication threshold has been adopted as a national benchmark for open government. Introduced by my Council motion in February 2009, and variously criticised as being either too boring – or generating too many inquiries – or too expensive – the critics have been proved wrong and the public expectation of openness has translated into almost 100% availability of information about local council spending. It’s also spreading across Whitehall and other public sector organisations.

2. Council Tax

Reducing Council Tax in real terms by 12% has been noticed by residents.

We calculated that we have put back into the local economy some £24 million that would otherwise have been taxed and spent in the public sector. This principle of being on the front foot in the many ways of
saving money put us in good stead when central government grants inevitably reduced.

3. Incentive Based Recycling.

The Borough’s new “blue bins” are the most visible delivered policy we have achieved. Residents have told us that they approve of the Conservative carrot rather than the Labour stick approach.

We maintained the weekly bin collections – including the blue recycling bins – as a key local service, universal to all households.

4. Big Society.

Great progress has been made, and our profile as the only Conservative Vanguard has seen us under the spotlight from national and international observers. We have seen a significant increase in local volunteering, and a greater awareness of the Big Society in the local community who – unlike media cynics – generally approve of the intent behind the policy. Working with contacts in Whitehall has given us interesting challenges when local ambition hits national barriers.

Reflection on Conference

I enjoyed the whole session, and took careful notes from Stephen Greenhalgh on his 3 ‘R’s – Releasing Assets, Restructuring Overhead and Reforming delivery of services.

Eric Pickles was great value as usual, and supported both the call for greater transparency as well as the collective need to tackle the huge deficit.

Free schools

Finally, after my panel, the session on free schools highlighted to me the challenges put up by the existing education “producers” and their supporters, who don’t want competition in their public sector arena.

Parents will make intelligent choices, and the more choices they can be given, the higher the standard of education on offer will need to be. We should try to move to a position where parents – the “customer” – are in command of making education choices, rather than be restricted to a limited range offered by a single local authority producer, sometimes condemning pupils to mediocre options because that’s all that was available.

The experience of the free school champions on the panel seemed to be both complex and challenging, so kudos to those who are actively pursuing different education choices despite the numerous obstacles on the way.