Cllr Philippa Roe is the Leader of Westminster City Council
I believe this year’s Conservative Party Conference kicks off what is likely to be the most critical period in the history of local government.
We are facing very real challenges, but also very real opportunities. So we need to work hard to seize our opportunity right here, right now with a devolution revolution.
Here in London, we have campaigned for greater devolution of powers to local and regional authorities and have proved time and time again how it can work. There is a real appetite for change, to make the system fairer to businesses while giving local areas the tools they need to drive growth and jobs.
But we face even bigger challenges ahead. In London alone we are likely to face a shortfall of 78,275 primary school places and 34,835 secondary school places by 2020 and there will have been a 145% increase in the number of Londoners over the age of 90 by 2031.
Unless we take bold action now to work together to reform how funding and power are shared between Whitehall and local places, we will find ourselves poorly equipped to provide the services people expect and undermine our achievements to date.
In Westminster we have a challenge like no other, as the West End has the same amount of recorded crimes a year as the city centre of Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Birmingham combined. But we think that we can cut crime rates in major cities like London, by nipping problems in the bud. I am asking that we get greater powers for our front-line services, so they can enforce against individuals engaged in anti-social behaviour – which is so often the first step on the path to more serious crime.
All of this is just the start, but I am ambitious that these first steps will provide the foundations for a bold new settlement between Whitehall and Town Halls, setting in train a new era of devolution within England that guarantees better quality services directed by the communities in which they are provided.
I will continue to lead the bid on more devolution for London, alongside London Councils, after my team helped to secure £11m for central London to pilot a job programme aimed at those that are the hardest to reach – the long-term unemployed. We have already set a target of getting 4,000 people into work over the next five years has been set.
The main focus over the next few days, and coming weeks and months, will be our continued push for 100% retention of business rates uplift, to be collected locally, a move that has been recently backed by the London Finance Commission. I’m looking forward to conference, and the local government sector should be too. We all have a major role to play in the devolution debate.