This morning, I will be announcing that I am running to be chairman of the Local Government Association.
As Conservatives, I suspect the instinct of many of you will be suspicion about why we need an organisation that sprang to life under the last Government. After all, the coalition Government has been busily scything its way through the quangocracy, so why spare the LGA? Why does it matter?
It matters because the country¹s councils deserve a platform that showcases the best of what they do, and provides the tools and advice for others to get better. As you may know, I lead for the LGA on improvement, and that work has involved coming up with practical ways to share expertise, promote efficiency and do more for less. It has led the charge in urging the Government to abandon the thousands of tick box measures previously imposed on local government to measure efficiency.
However, all too often, LGA members those who pay the membership fees are made to feel like spectators watching an unedifying spat between central Government and the local authority world. When it is not trading ineffectual blows with the DCLG, the LGA is often cornered into performing its other role, as a professional apologist when councils get it wrong. We need to do more to convince councils that membership of the LGA is an investment that yields local dividends.
I have spent recent months crossing the country and talking to council leaders. They know why they have to make the big cuts and take the hard decisions. The LGA should be leading the way in targeting the waste, duplication and top heavy management structures that can produce real savings while protecting services.
You know as I do that the Conservative instinct in adversity is to get on with the job. Many councils have shown imagination and innovation in taking on the Big Society ideal, and it¹s just this kind of response that should be championed by the LGA.
In brief, here¹s my vision for the Local Government Association. First, cut subscription fees and reduce the headcount to create a lean organisation that focuses on practical help for members. Second, devolve more of the organisation out of London . Yes, we need a base in London, but the LGA has become too metro-centric. Third, showcase the best of what councils do, and show others how to get better.
I also want to halt the recruitment of the next LGA chief. My view is it¹s time to move away from the traditional public sector chief executive model and hire an entrepreneurial and inspiring figure from the private sector. Richard Branson to restyle local Government? Why not?
The role of the LGA is to be neither supine to the Government or pick fights with it. A mature relationship involves accepting that a lot of what Eric Pickles has said is correct, but also demonstrating that talented people in councils can deliver solutions when left alone to do so. An LGA that champions value for money, innovation and individual initiative? They all sound classic Conservative virtues to me.