Tony Devenish is a member of the London Assembly for West Central.
As the Prime Minister has rightly recognised, the Conservative Party needs to change its priorities and approach in order to deliver for our new and unique voter base.
It is also clear that the way government is run will change, with Dominic Cummings’ typically idiosyncratic call for “assorted misfits and weirdos” to work in the heart of government suggesting that the civil service could transform dramatically. This is welcome, but Cummings need not stop at the civil service. I would never dream of labelling my colleagues in local government as misfits or indeed weirdos, but there is no doubt that the lower levels of government could be used more effectively to help the Prime Minister deliver his exciting domestic agenda.
Here are just three examples of how local government could make a real difference:
Recruiting 20,000 extra police officers
I have been a local councillor for 14 years and a London Assembly Member for four, and throughout this time, law and order issues have dominated my postbag. Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, are entirely right to recognise that we need to step-up policing across the country and deliver this change quickly.
However, police numbers alone aren’t enough; these officers need to be deployed in the right way. Politicians and even senior police officers are often too slow to recognise what many of my residents see very clearly: that visible policing is immensely important and having bobbies on the beat really does deter crime. Police technology certainly has a role in detecting crime hotspots, but local councillors know their patches better than anyone. Officers and councillors already work together, but we need to strengthen this link, ensure that local councillors play an elevated role in expanding neighbourhood policing, and, crucially, help to get police officers working in the right areas.
Local government can also help the police service to recruit and retain special constables. It is no secret that specials have somewhat withered on the vine recently, which is deeply regrettable at a time when they could be used to step up policing in preparation for the arrival of new officers. The Government really needs to look at recruiting a much higher number of specials and, crucially, ensure that they are used in a way which improves retention (the days of specials just being used to control crowds at football matches should be left in the past). Again, local councillors should be utilised to not only get specials working in the right areas, but also help to find local opportunities to up-skill them in order to incentivise them to stay.
Building more homes
Conservative governments over the past ten years have made huge strides forward when it comes to house building, with building numbers doubling since Labour’s Great Recession. But we need to go much further, and good, innovative local government will be absolutely key to getting more homes built.
Take the Greater London Authority (GLA) as an example. There is enormous potential to get more homes built on public sector land – potential which Mayor Sadiq Khan has entirely failed to realise. 57 percent of disposable NHS land is in the capital, but there is just one NHS-GLA project underway with a tiny number of starts on this land. On Met Police land, no new homes were started in the 2018/19 financial year, and just 9 in 2017/18. Transport for London (TfL) has a property portfolio that is 16 times the size of Hyde Park, and the Mayor rightly had an ambitious target to build 10,000 on this land by 2021, yet in the first three years of his mayoralty he started just 322 units.
In order to spread home ownership, the Government must give local government the support and freedom it needs to get spades in the ground and remain unafraid to use all of the tools at its disposal to spur lethargic local administrations like Sadiq Khan’s GLA into action.
My own mother turns 90 next month (Happy Birthday Mum!), so I really do personally feel how important sorting out our social care system is. It would be impossible to put forward a comprehensive solution in an 850-word article, but I would just urge the Government to ensure that local councils are closely involved with the development of a new social care model. After all, local councils are on the front line when it comes to social care, and really do understand the issues at hand better than anyone.
As Conservatives, we fundamentally believe in local government and have a great track record of pushing power downwards and outwards. As our party leads the country into an exciting new era, local government needs to play a key role in meeting the challenges of the 2020s.