Lord Porter is the Chairman of the Local Government Association.
With Parliament now in recess, it is an appropriate time to review what has been an eventful first half of 2018 for Conservative local government.
From the New Year onwards, attention was inevitably focused on May’s local elections and predictions of impending disaster in London. In the event, the losses were nothing like the scale predicted, and in a number of boroughs we actually strengthened our position.
Outside London, we made net gains, and the virtual standstill result overall means that, remarkably for a party that has been in government for eight years at a time of austerity, we currently have 2,500 more councillors than Labour and control 95 more councils than they do.
The background to this electoral success was continued close partnership working with Government Ministers, albeit with a number of changes in key positions since the start of the year.
In April, following nearly two years as our Secretary of State, Sajid Javid was appointed as the Home Secretary. I would like to place on record my thanks to Sajid for his working in such close partnership with us and his support of numerous LGA and Conservative Group events and conferences.
Sajid secured a number of key ‘wins’ for us, the most important of which was the significant extra funding for adult social care announced in last year’s Budget. This money would not have happened without his persistent lobbying on our behalf, which we are extremely grateful for.
I already knew Sajid’s successor, James Brokenshire, as a result of our work on refugees and migration when he was a Home Office Minister. In that position he recognised, along with the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, the LGA’s role in managing the Syrian refugee resettlement programme.
James has met with myself and other senior Conservative councillor colleagues on a weekly basis since his appointment, and this engagement has already secured some quick wins.
For example, with Brexit offering both challenges and opportunities for local government, it is important that our voice is heard within government. I was therefore delighted that, in his speech to the LGA Conference earlier this month, James announced the creation of a new Brexit Ministerial Local Government Delivery Board which is chaired by himself and includes representatives from the LGA, the County Councils’ Network, and the District Councils’ Network. The inaugural meeting took place last week, and I look forward to working with James on this and many other issues over the coming year.
Continuing the Brexit theme, Dominic Raab was our Housing Minister prior to being promoted to Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Given the importance of Brexit for local government, it is great that we have a someone we know in such an influential position.
Finally, whilst Parliament may be in recess, it is going to be a busy summer for the LGA, as we are currently finalising our Adult Social Care Green Paper ahead of the publication of the Government one later this year. We will be consulting widely on this as well as engaging with Matt Hancock, the new Secretary State for Health and Social Care, on this crucial issue for local government and the NHS.
Constructive dialogue and partnership working with Government Ministers across Whitehall benefits Conservative local and national government and the people that we serve, and I look forward to this continuing over the summer months ahead of the start of the new political year in September.