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LGA Chairman Cllr James Jamieson - Welcome and opening remarks at the LGA 2022 Annual Conference

Opening remarks by the LGA Chairman, Cllr James Jamieson, at the 2022 LGA Annual Conference in Harrogate.

Thank you, Mark.

I’d also like to add my thanks to Harrogate Council for being our host authority this year.

And what a pleasure it is to join together - in person - in such a beautiful, historic town. That has been voted a number of times “the happiest place to live in Britain”, and am sure this will rub off on us over the next few days.

As much as virtual working has served a purpose, you cannot beat being in a room full of people who are passionate about delivering for people and places.

And no one saying “You’re on mute”.

I’d like to add my thanks to all our sponsors, including our main sponsor CCLA for their continued support and partnering with us once again.

I'm looking forward to the great programme of over 100 hundred varied sessions, such a great opportunity to discuss ideas, share best practice and celebrate all that is great in local government.

Before we get into our proceedings, let's take a moment to look back over the last 25 years of your LGA.

WOW, it is great to see how far we have come in the last 25 years.

Thank you to all those through whose leadership, we have all been able deliver so much for our communities.

Such as the return of Public Health, removal of HRA Cap and getting a billion pounds back from the Icelandic banking crisis.

And the key has been being the single voice for Local Government on a cross party basis, putting residents first not politics.

Can I thank our four political group leaders, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Cllr Nick Forbes now Cllr Shaun Davies, Cllr Joe Harris and Cllr Marianne Overton for their hard work providing direction and overseeing the work of the LGA.

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, sadly no longer with us - both are greatly missed by the local government family.

But we need to look forward to some of the current and coming challenges.

When we met three years ago, nobody could have predicted Covid, Ukraine, and the cost of living crisis.

Covid demonstrated yet again just what local government can do and I would like to say a personal thanks to all of you who have helped our communities through this crisis.

As leaders of place, councils will be key to rebuilding our communities and economies.

There will be much we will want to build on, including the community spirit and resilience shown by the people through Covid.

Communities have come together like never before, and this was yet again seen in the celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Following Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, I am amazed and heartened that thousands have stepped forward to support to those fleeing war.

And councils have rapidly responded, developing new services and programmes of support our newest and most vulnerable, members of our society.

I would like to thank the Secretary of State and Lord Harrington for their willingness to work differently and their active engagement with local government on this.

But those underlying issues from three years ago are still with us, if not more so.

Demographic pressures, a shortage of care workers, inflation and now care reforms, which while laudable are placing a huge pressure on councils.

- we agree with the cap,

- there should be a fair cost of care, and

- care workers deserve a decent wage.

The problem is that this has to be paid for and implementing and monitoring the system will take additional resource.

Which we do not have.

The Health and Social Care precept needs to be genuinely shared.

But it’s not just the money, it is the capacity in an already stretched system.

We urge Government to allow time to learn from the trailblazers before rolling out the charging reforms further.

And, in the longer term, we need a place-based approach to health.

Locally led with a focus on prevention and early intervention rather than cure.

More widely, all councils play their part in improving the health of our residents, with our housing and green spaces vital to improving wellbeing and tackling social isolation.

This is why it is positive that Government listened and the new integrated care partnerships will be locally led, and we continue to push for health systems to be place-focussed, not acute focussed.

SEND and Children’s Social Care are also increasing issues, not only are these expensive but the system is dysfunctional.

We, as a society, can do so much better.

Because we all want to achieve the best for our children.

We lobbied hard on this, and it is welcome that many of our suggestions were incorporated in the SEND Review, the Education White Paper and the McAllister Review.

These reforms will make a difference, but only if Health and Schools play their part.

The LGA will continue to push for this and that they are held to account locally.

And we, of course, need more investment in services that support children and families.

Housing is one of our big issues.

It is too expensive, and all too often poor quality and unsuitable.

And there is the need to address Climate Change.

We do need more homes, but this cannot be solved by a planning free for all.

That is why we lobbied so hard for a plan-led approach.

And for the first time in my 13 years in local government, where every change to planning regulation seemed to make it worse, I was greatly relieved to see proposals that have a genuine chance to improve the system.

Focusing on a plan-led system, with more of the land value uplift funding vital infrastructure, a focus on quality and incentivising build out.

It does not fix everything, but is a welcome step forward.

At the LGA, we look forward to working with Government to make practical the principals laid out in the Levelling Up White Paper.

I constantly remind Government and the Secretary of State, that decision-making and funding should be always devolved down to the lowest practicable level.

Local communities are best placed to address the issues they face, led by councillors as their locally elected and accountable leaders.

The Secretary of State has shown he is committed to devolution, for all areas of the UK.

But there is much detail to be fleshed out, and we all need to help Michael in his battles with his Cabinet colleagues to free up the tentacles of Whitehall and allow services to be delivered faster, more effectively, and locally.

For instance, bidding for short-term funding through 448 different grants and funding streams is no way to run efficient government.

Clearly long-term, single pot funding for councils is of benefit to both central and local government, and the communities we serve.

On the money, last November we thought we had a decent settlement, albeit overly dependent on council tax rises.

But with Russian’s war on Ukraine, we have seen a dramatic increase in costs, way beyond that which we or Government could have anticipated.

LGA analysis, published today, shows that rising energy prices, spiralling inflation, and National Living Wage pressures are set to add £3.6 billion in unforeseen extra cost pressures on council budgets in 2024/25, compared to November.

Yes, longer term funding, less burdens from government and alternative revenue streams would help.

But, put simply, the Numbers just do not add up.

I am sorry Michael to always ask for more money - but could we have a local government funding version of the triple lock?

We desperately need to protect budgets and services from the impact of inflation, without which there will be real service cuts to some of the most vulnerable in our communities.

The LGA will continue to work with you to get through these difficult times, both through lobbying as the single voice for local government and through our outstanding local government sector support programme.

Democracy matters.

But that can only happen if people feel safe to participate in public life.

We all stood for election as we wanted to make a difference for our communities.

No councillor or officer should have to face abuse.

But the LGA’s review, published this week, shows 7 in 10 councillors experience abuse and intimidation.

And the stories really are harrowing.

Not just online abuse, but in person and in some extreme cases physical attacks on property and person.

This cannot be right!

As Baroness Grey-Thompson said earlier, we cannot allow this behaviour to be normalised.

Not now, not ever.

The LGA’s civility in public life programme of work, aims to tackle these issues.

You can read more about our findings and the campaign in our ‘Debate Not Hate’: report, we are launching at Conference this week.

Please do visit the stand to learn more.

Looking to the future -

With a new Parliament and the Government driving forward a range of reforms to empower local leaders to deliver housing, planning, education improvements and combat climate change, there is a real opportunity for councils to look at what the next few years may bring.

Councils are always at the forefront of place-shaping.

We need to develop a long-term vision which addresses the challenges that our communities will be facing in the next 5-10-20 years.

The LGA has commissioned some analysis that explores some of these “Big Ideas” as we look to drive forward a long-term policy agenda.

These will be explored by Ben Page tomorrow, and I urge you to come along to this.

We look forward to starting a conversation across local government which begins here at conference.

We will also be inviting councils to engage with some of these ideas and you can send us your proposals for change as well.

Because councils and your local leadership are integral to the future.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you again for everything you do

As the nation navigates these uncertain economic headwinds, I am confident that as local leaders we will continue to stand strong, resolute and determined in delivering the best for our communities.

We will Build Back Better by Building Back Local.

I look forward to speaking to many of you over the next few days.

Thank you.