Lord Porter is the Leader of South Holland District Council and a former Chairman of the Local Government Association.
It has been nearly three months since I stood down as the Chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), and in that short period, British politics has experienced further dramatic change: Boris Johnson was elected as Leader of our Party and appointed Prime Minister, the Cabinet was radically reshuffled, and the brief return of Parliament after the summer recess produced more drama in one week than a full session used to in quieter times.
Although spread over four years, my time as LGA Chairman also coincided with a period of profound change: I took up the post in July 2015 just after David Cameron had secured the Party’s first electoral majority in 23 years, 2016 was the year of the Brexit vote, and in 2017, we had yet another general election, the third in seven years. The following two years saw the implications of the Brexit vote crowding out almost everything else and eventually led to Theresa May stepping down as our Party Leader and Prime Minister.
As LGA Chairman, I dealt with three Secretaries of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG): Greg Clark, Sajid Javid, and James Brokenshire. They are quite different characters, but all shared a willingness to listen to local government and respond to our concerns, for which I will always be grateful.
Under Greg, we saw significant progress on devolution in certain parts of the country, as well as the first serious moves towards the localisation of business rates. After he moved to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2016 I continued to work closely with him, particularly regarding the Industrial Strategy.
Sajid’s time at MHCLG coincided with increasing concern about the crisis in adult social care. Having listened to our lobbying on this, he worked across Whitehall to secure an extra £2 billion in funding for social care in the 2017 Budget.
Under Sajid’s leadership, we also saw a renewed focus on getting more homes built. For example, he secured £5 billion for the new Housing Infrastructure Fund, which is designed to unlock 200,000 new homes in areas of high demand. With the Government committed to building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, this funding is essential in ensuring that development is sustainable.
Finally, at last year’s Party Conference, with James Brokenshire as our Secretary of State, came the announcement that I had lobbied for my whole political career: the abolition of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) borrowing cap. This simple measure, which will allow councils to borrow to build new social housing, means that local government is at last able to fully play its part in tackling the national housing shortage.
James also oversaw the creation of the Brexit Local Government Delivery Board, bring together senior LGA councillors and Ministers from across Whitehall. As we approach the 31st of October, the Board is becoming increasingly influential within Whitehall.
When I stood down as LGA Chairman, I was delighted to be succeeded by another Conservative, Cllr James Jamieson, the Leader of Central Bedfordshire and the Leader of the Conservative Group at the LGA. James was replaced as Leader by Izzi Secombe. Whilst most of us were able to take a break over the Summer, James and Izzi were busy in Westminster holding meetings with a range of new Ministers, including our new MHCLG Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, to lobby for the LGA’s key asks ahead of the recent Spending Round.
Their efforts were rewarded with the announcement in the Spending Round of £3.5 billion in funding for local services, the largest year on year real-terms increase in spending power in over a decade. This included £1.5 billion for adult social care and £700 million for children and young people with special educational needs, two key cost pressure areas.
So the main lesson that I took from my four years as LGA Chairman is a very simple one: when Conservatives in local and central government work together, we improve lives and achieve the best results for our communities. With James and Izzi, the LGA is in safe hands, and I wish them all the best for what promises to be another eventful and dramatic political year.