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Thomson Alex Thomson, the Chief Executive of Localis, on the themes his think tank will be raising in Manchester

For the many thousands headed to Manchester in the next few days by plane, train and automobile, two questions are uppermost in their minds – how can I avoid the annual Conference mega- hangover? And what fringe events should I be putting my Conference diary?

Despite the best efforts of science, I’m afraid that there is no failsafe solution to the first question (unless you opt for temporary teetotalism, and where would the fun be in that). But the good news is that I can help with the second question – Localis is hosting four excellent events on Monday and Tuesday, all of which, I would humbly suggest, are well worth a visit.

Firstly we look at the role of the countryside in the economy. With the national (and global) economy teetering on the brink, working out how we can kick-start growth is particularly topical, but discussion often seems to begin and end with the role of cities. Our first event, entitled ‘Beyond the City Limits: Are counties the engine for growth?’, and kindly sponsored by Action for Market Towns, will attempt to redress the balance. This lunchtime panel debate will take place at 12.45pm on Monday in the Rochdale Suite of the Jury’s Inn (click here for a map). A top notch panel is headed by Tony Travers, local government’s very own academic guru, and also includes Andew Lewer, the leader of Derbyshire CC and Mike Jones, the leader of Cheshire West and Chester.


Another big topic is the future of public services, so we are delighted to be hosting a speech by Oliver Letwin, the Government’s policy eminence grise, on exactly this subject. This event is a drinks reception, open to all, which starts at 6.00pm on Monday in the Directors’ Suite at the Palace Hotel (click here for a map). The reception is kindly sponsored by Mears, and will celebrate the recent launch of Localis’s ‘Commission Impossible’ report (available to download here) which describes how councils can deliver better public services by moving towards a more ‘strategic commissioning’ approach i.e. taking a provider neutral approach rather than dogmatically presupposing that all services must be delivered in-house.

Our third event is another cracker. With local government facing a combination of rising demand and falling grant, giving councils more freedom to operate as corporate entities is a key part of Eric Pickles’s empowerment of local government. But is making profits an activity that councils should be encouraged to pursue? The speakers for this lunchtime panel debate include Paul Carter, the leader of Kent, Dr Andrew Povey, the leader of Surrey, and Mike Burton, the eminent local government journalist. It takes place at 12.45pm in the Rochdale Suite of the Jurys Inn (click here for a map), and is kindly sponsored by BLP Managed Legal Service.

And our final event is on perhaps the hottest political issue of the moment, planning – specifically the Government’s proposals for neighbourhood planning. This drinks reception takes place at 6.00pm on Tuesday in the Rochdale Suite at the Jurys Inn (click here for a map) and is kindly sponsored by Land Securities.

We are delighted that Greg Clark, Minister with responsibility for planning, and Ravi Govindia, the leader of Wandsworth, will be among the speakers present for the launch of a major new report from Localis – in partnership with Birmingham City Council and Land Securities – on how the introduction of neighbourhood plans can deliver a more positive attitude to planning from all involved, and ultimately help drive national growth, from the bottom up, in the years ahead. In particular, the report scotches fears that neighbourhood planning will be hijacked by NIMBYs, leading to further delays in the delivery of much needed new housing.

With stacks of high profile speakers discussing key policy areas, these events are certain to provoke lively, perhaps even vigorous, debate. I look forward to seeing you there.

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