Lord Porter is Chairman of the Local Government Association.
Over the past eight years, by working in partnership, Conservatives in local and national government have broken one of the golden rules of British politics – one that certainly held true for us in the early to mid-nineties and for Labour from 1997 onwards – namely that the party in power nationally will inevitably see its local government base dramatically reduced.
Our strength in local government is illustrated by the fact we have over 8,900 councillors and control 199 councils whilst Labour have just over 6,150 councillors and control 104 councils.
The forthcoming local elections focus attention on what we need to do to maintain this dominance. Within the space available here, I will highlight two key areas where I believe that partnership working between Conservatives at the local and the national levels has delivered solutions that improve people’s lives and incentivise them to vote Conservative.
Firstly, as we all know, getting more homes built and helping people onto the property ladder is one of the Government’s key priorities. Indeed, it has committed to building 300,000 new homes by the mid-2020s and Conservative councils will be pivotal to the delivery of this.
To make this vision a reality the Government has created a £5 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund and 133 council-led projects supporting 200,000 new homes have already received funding totalling £866 million to support vital local work such as the construction of new roads, flood defences and land remediation work.
Conservative local government strongly welcomes this funding which will make it much easier to persuade residents that new development will be both appropriately located and accompanied by adequate infrastructure. This is a crucial tool to fix our broken housing market and we are grateful to Sajid Javid and Theresa May for delivering this fund.
Secondly, I would highlight how the Localism Act, and specifically its “general power of competence,” which councils long argued for, has since 2011 allowed them to act in the best interests of their residents since no action is now beyond their powers unless they are prevented from doing so by the common law, specific legislation or statutory guidance.
Now I am not suggesting that extolling the virtues of the Localism Act in itself will be a big vote winner of the doorstep. However, what Conservative councils will be able to do is highlight how they have used this national legislation to improve local communities.
Consider, for example, Staffordshire County’s success in persuading Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) to build its new engine plant in South Staffordshire. When JLR approached the council there was a great site – i54 alongside the M54 – but no motorway junction. Within days of the approach a partnership was formed with neighbouring councils to secure the necessary investment, and within three weeks the key decisions were taken, using localism powers, to jointly fund the junction. This secured hundreds of millions of pounds of investment from JLR in the site and has created hundreds of new jobs – a huge boost to the local economy.
Through positive partnership working with our colleagues in Westminster, Conservative councillors have maintained our position as the dominant part in local government whilst delivering real improvements to the communities we serve. To maintain this success we need more Conservative councillors and councils elected on May 3rd.