I am delighted to be resuming normal service following the election purdah which culminated at the AGM in Birmingham last week. Congratulations to new Independent Group Deputy Leader, Councillor Clive Woodbridge, from Epsom and Ewell in Surrey, and Treasurer Councillor Clarence Barrett, from the London Borough of Havering.
Additionally, the General Assembly re-elected me as Vice Chairman of the LGA. Thank you very much indeed for your continued support, steering the LGA and our local councils to serve local people in the best way possible.
LGA annual conference and exhibition
A vibrant buzz filled the ICC in Birmingham for three days with an excellent turnout of Independent Group members who thrived on a diet of innovative ideas, discussions and vision to help councils do the best possible job for local people. The camaraderie amongst our members was striking, perhaps helped by the shared joy of winning the football quarter finals! What a celebration we had!
Our group held the main stage twice, first chairing a lively, cross-party discussion on getting a better gender balance in our councils and council leadership, which included Sophie Walker of the Women’s Equality Party. Lord Best spoke of the value of the LGA and of the Independent Group councillors before giving 10 reasons why housing could not and should not be left to the private sector. He highlighted the combined efforts that successfully defeated the wrong-headed policy of forcing councils to sell off houses to fund housing associations. He called for lifting the borrowing cap that prevents councils doing more; as well as the relaxation of the right to buy.
LGA leaders agreed to a joint committee with the minister, James Brokenshire MP, on the implementation of Brexit, announced at the conference. On a similar joint committee, colleagues and I have been working on a councils’ charter for equality with minister Jake Berry MP, as we have done for European Local Government.
The Independent Group chose to focus on future priorities with Professor Colin Copus, on the rural economy post Brexit and on Making Votes Matter. Two key objectives remain: keeping a high level of activity throughout England and Wales, engaging with as many of our members as possible; and supporting councillors into the next elections in May. Thirty three issues were raised by the Group, picked up by our leadership and our board members at the sharp end of driving LGA work and policy. Thank you to all our Independent Group councillors who do great things at the heart of our communities. That is why we get elected!
Please have a quick look at what we are doing on your behalf. There is only so much we can do on our own locally, then to do more, we sit on and draw support from our councils. Beyond that, we often need national support which is where the LGA comes in, bringing the full weight of our combined thinking to influence the Government, backed by also making our case through the media. The breadth of local government’s influence on the lives of people every day in almost every way is staggering. It demonstrates just how vital the democratic connection between residents and you as a councillor really is. We influence national government, but the impact of what we do is far-reaching and unfolding as funding fails to meet the rising essential needs. There is much we need to do.
The work of our Independent Group members is remarkable, with common sense and credibility outstanding on every committee. This is only possible with your interest and support, keeping our members informed and well-connected with all parts of the country through our development sessions, conferences and think tanks. Thank you.