LGA chairman, Lord Porter's keynote address to the LGA Annual Conference

Lord Porter, Chairman of the Local Government Association, addresses more than 1,200 local government leaders, councillors and ministers in his keynote speech at the LGA’s Annual Conference in Birmingham today.


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As many of you have said, if we didn’t exist, you would have to create us.

It’s a huge privilege to be your Chairman and to be in such esteemed company, and indeed to have a number of our past Chairmen and Chairs with us at conference:

  • Jeremy
  • Margaret,
  • Merrick, and
  • David.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite you onto the stage to collect a gift.  Please come up and join me.

I must of course also pay tribute to Sandy Bruce Lockhart and Simon Milton for everything they did during their time as Chairmen of the LGA and who are both, sadly, no longer with us – they are greatly missed by the local government family.

Every single Council Leader has helped to strengthen our impact, unite us to speak as one strong, credible voice. And helped to influence successive governments over the past twenty years.  

As the film showed earlier, it’s really about what local government has achieved over that time.

Lots of things have changed, but some things remain the same – my haircut for starters!

You’ll all have your own achievements in your local areas, but in the LGA we can be proud of…

  • Successfully making the case for devolution and localism.
  • Getting 95 per cent of your money back from Iceland.
  • Creating a new system of sector-led improvement to replace the top-down inspections.
  • Setting up a new system for public sector audit which has helped save our members £45 million since 2011.
  • Bringing public health back into the local government family.

And this year,

  • Securing £2 billion of extra money to fund our social care.

We know our member councils are the real engine of government – 

You do the heavy lifting,

You get things done,

And

You make the difference to people’s lives.

I like to think that the LGA’s the oil that keeps the engine running smoothly.

2.       Last year

I would now like to touch on the last year.  Normally I would start by saying what a year... But really never mind what a year. What a few months!

Another LGA conference and another national election.

We’re almost at the point now where they’ll be giving out loyalty cards – get enough stamps on your election card and you can get one free!                                                                    

Of course, things now look very different from when I stood in front of you last year. We have had a new Government, six new metro mayors, Brexit negotiations are underway, and – sadly – on a more sombre note, Councils supporting their communities after four months of terror and tragedy.

In two parts of our great country, Councils along with their communities have stood together, comforted and supported each other during some truly dark times.

The awful attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park shocked and saddened us all. Our thoughts are, of course, with all of those people and communities affected.

Throughout all of this, local government has proved itself to be vital to the fabric of our country.

Once again,

Our emergency services showed their bravery in responding to the horrors that unfolded at Grenfell Tower.

I'd like to say a big thank you to our friends in the police and ambulance services for the tremendous work that they do to keep our communities safe.

In the case of Grenfell, our heartfelt admiration for the bravery of our firefighters cannot be expressed by words alone:–  

Please now put your hands together so they can hear us.

I would also like to thank those Councils who speedily undertook new safety checks on their high rise buildings. This has been a difficult and challenging time for all of us, but it is a challenge we must meet to ensure our residents are all safe in their homes.

LGA

We often talk about the "local government family" - and, much like any family, we don't always agree on everything and we can’t please each other all of the time.

It’s no secret that over the last year, there have been some competing interests in the sector.

Everyone wants funding to be the focus, but is social care more important than housing, are skills more important than potholes?

You all know that I like a healthy debate.

But never at the expense of us speaking with one voice or without a clear purpose.  And that purpose is always to make sure we get the best for our residents. After all, that's why we’re here.

 And…

With all that’s going on in Westminster - and what’s coming over the hill in the next two years - it’s more important than ever that we all stick together and speak as one.

Budget and Finance Settlement

With all that is going on, sometimes we just need to pause, take a breath and look at what we’ve achieved together.

Getting new money into local government is something we’ve all been campaigning for.

I know the Local Government Finance Settlement was a mixed bag.

It was a massive disappointment that no new funding could be found for Councils. Even the magic sofa didn’t work this time.

The precept didn’t work for some of you.

Reductions to the New Homes Bonus left a huge unplanned gap in many of your budgets.

And cuts to public health budgets have left many of you feeling like you’ve been handed the responsibility but without the resources.

Going forward together, we must also be clear with government that a four year settlement means a four year settlement.  We can’t allow them to try and back slide from that promise.

But despite these setbacks we stuck together and fought side by side.

The Spring Budget brought some better news – the extra £2 billion we secured for social care was unprecedented. 

This shows that when we speak loudly with one voice we get heard.

The guidance on how the money is to be spent was finally issued late last night. 

Whilst we are all working to keep people out of hospital, we believe the Government’s expectation should be proportionate to where the delays occur.

As recently as yesterday I spoke to the Health Secretary   Jeremy Hunt to raise our concerns.  I will continue to work with Jeremy to push for councils to retain control of the money.

It also helps that in DCLG we’ve got a friend in Saj who is prepared to fight our corner with the Treasury and other Departments.

3. The next 20 and the new government - Launch Growing Places

As the Government negotiates the exit from the EU it’s more important than ever that we have friends in Whitehall who will argue the case for localism in the corridors of power.

Government needs us - more than ever - to keep our country running.

Amongst the uncertainty, we’ve provided the stability our communities need – dare I say it, we are strong and stable in local government!

I would like to take a moment to run through some of the key priorities in our conference publication - Growing Places. You will get copies on the way out.

I know that the state of Council finances keeps many of us up at night. Making the bottom line work for you will continue to be a priority for the LGA’s lobbying.

The money local government has for vital day-to-day services is running out fast. There is also huge uncertainty about how local services are going to be funded beyond 2020.

Councils can no longer be expected to run our local services on a shoestring. We must shout from the roof tops for local government to be put back on a sustainable financial footing.

We’ve protected government for a long time by making sure all the cuts thrown our way were implemented in a way that shielded our residents as much as possible.

But if austerity is coming to an end, then, as we were in the front of the queue when it started, we must also be at the front of the queue for more money when it ends. Only with adequate funding and the right powers can Councils help the Government tackle the challenges facing our nation.

Councils know their communities better than anyone and know how best to spend that money.

Let us be clear, every penny in local taxation must be kept locally and spent locally.

The cap on Council Tax needs to be lifted.

And on business rates, whatever happens going forward, we are clear that all the money we collect each year needs to stay with us.  And then we will make sure it is spent well.

We must be able to choose for ourselves how we spend it locally and we need to be clear that we don’t want any new duties. We’ve already got enough to do!

Our message to Ministers is simple: –

Whilst you’re getting on with Brexit, let us help you keep the country running, let us keep our money, and give us the powers that we need so that we can get on with the job.

All of us in this room know what the cost pressures are – adult social care, children’s services and homelessness to name but a few.

Take adult social care. It is putting pressure on Council budgets up and down the country. We need to work with national politicians to get a consensus on the long term solution. And this needs to be delivered.

If we can work cross-party at a local level, why can’t national parties of all colours come together to find a way forward?

Any solution to the adult social care crisis can only be found by working with Councils. Solutions imposed from Westminster will not work.

Children’s services are another cost pressure that many of you frequently tell me about.

It matters to us because we want to make sure our children and young people are safe. It should be the top priority of any government.

Sadly these vital services are becoming unsustainable.

And if we are to give our children the start they deserve, it can’t be done from Whitehall. Councils need to retain control over school budgets.

But our work can’t stop there….

Our country is facing a housing crisis and the national shame of homelessness is on the rise again.

It is a crisis that we’ve seen coming for the last 50 years. But for too long governments of all colours have failed to tackle it. Targets do not build homes, bricklayers do.

Whitehall alone can’t fix the housing market. Central government needs Councils to build good quality, affordable homes that are well supported by local services.

If we are going to get serious about building more homes, Councils need to start building in a big way.  To do that we need financial flexibilities – and that means amongst other things, scrapping the housing borrowing cap.

And,

If we are to end homelessness once and for all, we need to be honest about the root causes.

That means tackling the growing gap between household incomes and increasing rents.   

Our residents are central to meeting the challenges we face.  Whether it is providing the services I’ve talked about today or growing the economy – people are our most important asset.

If we don’t equip them with the skills they need, we will fail.  

And it is not just about our children, important as they are. It is also about re-training people for the future.   

Councils must have the powers and funding to create a new skills system that is fit for purpose.

Greg Clark agrees that for the Industrial Strategy to work, we need a world class workforce.

By giving us the responsibility and funding to equip our workforce, we can provide residents and businesses with top quality training and employment opportunities.

As I keep saying, we need more brickies… Says the man in the suit!  

Conclusion

Looking back, there is plenty for the LGA and local government to celebrate – 20 years of working together for our residents.

But of course we can always do more.

We are in unprecedented times. The coming years will bring some big challenges.  I’ve touched on a few of these and look forward to debating them with you.

Our message to the whole of government is simple – in these uncertain times you get on with Brexit and let us in local government have the money and freedom we need to run the country. We’ll do the rest.

The people in this room and the Councils you lead are the ones who can be trusted to make a difference to people’s lives.

To boost economic growth,

To build desperately-needed homes,

To create jobs,

To provide school places and the best start in life for our children,

And, of course,

To deliver dignified care for our elderly and vulnerable neighbours.

Thank you.