Lincolnshire

What recent political shifts mean for local government

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A week is a very long time in politics and since the Annual Conference for Local Government we have a new Prime Minister and a new cabinet, without a general election. Teresa May’s acceptance speech gave recognition of the problems of ordinary people and called for unity, so we’ll see.

Echoes of the now somewhat discredited speech of “We’re all in this together” from David Cameron are apparent, but the appointment of the Right Honourable David Davis to head up a big team to negotiate exit from Europe is new.

The brightest and best are being harvested from other departments for the new team, which may put back some of the other work.

The question of what job to give ex rival Boris Johnson MP must have somewhat exercised Theresa May, and settling on Foreign Secretary will need some careful ministerial support, I would guess.

I and my colleagues leading the Local Government Association wrote to congratulate the new Prime Minister, even as she was being appointed by the Queen.

We set out clearly where we in local government can give support; in community cohesion and bringing communities back together, in public service reform and negotiating the best deal for our country in future.

We reiterated the need for local powers, for a fair and sustainable finance system and for ensuring that councils still receive the money currently allocated under the EU structural funding for projects already agreed.

Councillors from across the country contributed what they see as important now and these are I included in our submission.

I have organised an information and development session on Monday to hone our thoughts on how local government can assist post referendum, followed by a visit to Parliament after 3.30pm.

Looking at the cabinet changes gives us an idea of the new direction. We have worked well with the Rt. Hon. Greg Clarke MP who, as a former local councillor, understands local government.

He is now replaced at DCLG by the Rt, Hon. Sajid Javid, so far an unknown quantity from our point of view. We shall continue to work with Greg Clarke on economic issues in his new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which includes research and innovation, previously part of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The closure of DECC, and the apparent downgrading of climate change, is of concern to many of our members. DEFRA – the department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is now led by Andrea Leadsom, a climate change sceptic and former banker.

She will need to demonstrate that she is able to be a strong advocate when it comes to environmental issues, which are likely to include flooding, farm payments, waste management and habitat directives.

Replacing George Osborne with Philip Hammond could signal a change. Devolution was in the party manifesto, although we have argued against new combined authorities covering very large areas with an elected mayor. I anticipate that we will be working primarily with Sajid Javid and Philip Hammond on the devolution agenda, although the detail of the new ministerial responsibilities and the changes in departments has yet to be made completely clear.

Theresa May previously indicated that the 2020 surplus budget target is likely to be dropped and austerity extended, perhaps partly based on less optimistic economic forecasts over the recent months.

It would be good to see support for our businesses to survive and thrive and help reduce inequalities. Focussing just on “increasing the economy” by an amount similar to the increase in population is not enough.

In the headlong drive for “growth”, let’s not forget what we actually need is communities in a healthy environment with matching services and infrastructure.