Cllr David Simmonds is the Deputy Leader of Hillingdon Council and the Conservatve candidate for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner
Standing in local elections has long been part of the process that aspiring candidates go through if they hope, eventually, to make it into parliament. For those who take their local politics seriously, having been a councillor is a great background for a parliamentary campaign. At a time when there are strident cries for more outside experience in parliament, people who have learnt how politics works in advance have the potential to make a major positive difference. Too many of those with the most prominent outside experience, in business for example, sink without trace once on the green benches as the altogether different dynamics of a democratic environment and the process of political life mean their hard-earned skills are not fit for their new purpose.
An MPs role is very different in some ways to that of a councillor, but the soft political skills and the experience of knowing how to get a constituent help by going to the right source is a good start for being an efficient constituency MP. Knowledge of the background to many of the issues on voters’ minds is helpful to, for example, when concerns about planning applications crop up at a surgery.
However, it is in the bigger political context that council experience is likely to be most relevant. Councillors know that to deliver a political programme, it has to be structured so that decisions can be made and implemented efficiently and effectively, without delay caused by legal or financial challenges that can be foreseen and avoided. In a nation that is held back by massive centralisation of decision-making in politics at Westminster, it has always struck me that devolution is a good way of enabling parliament to concentrate on issues of genuine, national interest while locally accountable councillors, with their equivalent democratic mandate, get on with the rest. We have talked a lot about devolution, for example with the academy programme for schools. However, as head teachers have told me, all that ‘local authority bureaucracy’ turned out to be getting collected on behalf of central government – and still is. Meaningful local leadership will allow parliament to devote the time and attention it needs, to its legislative role, and to the statutory guidance issued afterwards by government departments that is so often behind the red tape that we see at local level.
The final area I highlight where local government experience is relevant is on those bigger constituency issues that are concerning residents. HS2, and Heathrow expansion, are concerns in the constituency I am contesting in the upcoming election. I am a supporter of railways and improved connectivity to, and for, the North and Midlands. However, the current expensive disruptive route of HS2 and the neglect of decrepit local transport are unacceptable. Having been close to the campaign against it from the start, its weaknesses are obvious and the chance to get a better outcome for the country is there in the forthcoming review. Heathrow expansion, similarly, will lead to many currently undisturbed residents having low aircraft overhead, with noise and pollution a growing concern. Its business case only makes sense for the airport owners, but for UK PLC there are better choices available. The multi-year closure of the M25 that is required, for example, and the lack of UK economic contribution from transit passengers, deserve attention that only someone familiar with the detail can bring.
I wish all the councillors standing in this election good luck and look forward to the benefits their experience will bring to the country and the work of parliament.