Cllr Izzi Seccombe is the Leader of Warwickshire County Council and the Leader of the Conservative Group of the Local Government Association.
Now more than ever, we need a majority Conservative Government to get Brexit done so that we can focus on domestic priorities and local issues. The General Election on 12th December provides a great opportunity to elect a Government that is capable of delivering a successful Brexit, has a good record on managing the economy, and cares for the welfare of its citizens.
Thanks to the Government’s careful management of the economy over the last decade, our economy is growing and the unemployment rate is down to its lowest level since the 1970s.
We have created 3.7 million new jobs since 2010, backed businesses and boosted productivity. And now we can afford to invest properly in the public’s priorities. This year the Government announced £3.5 billion funding for local services in the Spending Round so that we can further improve people’s lives.
Additionally, the Government is increasing school funding by £14 billion to give children the best start in life, and making our streets safer by recruiting more than 20,000 police officers. Boris Johnson has also promised to increase the NHS budget so it can provide the best possible care for everyone.
To provide the homes people need, the Government scrapped the Housing Revenue Borrowing cap last year – a longstanding ‘ask’ of the LGA. Furthermore, the Affordable Homes Programme has been increased by £2 billion and the Government continues to support Help to Buy in order to make home ownership a reality for more people.
Infrastructure plays an important role in driving economic growth and delivering sustainable housing development, so I particularly welcome the £29 billion of investment to improve local roads and the £3.6 billion Towns Fund to improve local transport links.
By contrast, I believe that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn would fail to provide the support that local government needs. In February, Labour voted against the local government finance settlement that gave councils a real-term increase in funding to provide quality local services. They would also scrap Ofsted (who provide impartial school inspections), increase taxes, and delay Brexit.
Despite all their talk on tackling climate change, Labour’s policies on energy renationalisation would limit and frighten away just the type of private sector investment that is crucial for decreasing emissions. The private sector could play a substantial role in mitigating infrastructure-related climate change, and the innovation it would bring has the potential to grow new businesses, skills, and jobs for the next generation.
By contrast, Conservatives both locally and nationally are approaching environmental problems realistically. The Government has set a legally binding target to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and over the past decade we have invested significantly in renewable energy, cut plastic bags usage, and reduced greenhouse gas emission. In 2018, the Government also launched the 25 Year Environment Plans which sets out how we will improve the environment over a generation by creating richer habitats for wildlife, improving air and water quality, and taking action to mitigate climate change.
Whilst I am proud of what we have achieved to date, there is room for improvement. Top of the list from a local government perspective is the publication of the Social Care Green Paper. Adult social care is under severe pressure and councils face an overall funding gap of £8 billion by 2025. We welcomed the Government’s recent funding for social care and the news that public health is staying with local government. However, long-term sustainable funding is required for councils to properly take care of our most vulnerable citizens.
Councils also need more power and flexibility to provide first class services to their residents. Devolution will give councils more freedom and make it possible for more decisions to be taken at a local level. I was pleased that the Queen’s Speech confirmed that the Government will prepare a English Devolution White Paper, but it needs to make sure that any deals are available to all local areas and can be delivered through flexible governance arrangements.
The 2019 General Election offers us the opportunity to break the Brexit deadlock and focus on the many others issues that need resolving. It is clear that only a Conservative Parliamentary majority can achieve this and Conservative councillors will be working flat out over the coming weeks to get as many Conservative MPs elected as possible.