For the last three days everyone who is anyone in local government has been camped out in Birmingham, working through the issues we face as a sector and as Leader it was my responsibility to head-up Crawley’s delegation.
In practice, the conference is much like any other, some minor administrative item of business have to be taken care of, various set-piece speeches are given and there’s one heck of a lot of networking (you never know when having a contact at another council will fix a problem at home).
In addition to discussing best practice–such as talking to the MOD about how we can support our veterans better, and looking at new developments which will enable us to improve how we deliver for Crawley, I was invited to participate in roundtable discussions on fixing our infrastructure deficit with the Mayor of the West Midlands, increasing housing delivery with various developers and meeting the financial challenges every council is facing.
The ‘highlight’ of the conference is a speech by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, I say highlight loosely since it’s rare that we hear anything which makes any of us happy but it’s big enough to make the national news. This year was frankly incredible.
I don’t think anyone out there is going to defend the on-going failure of Kensington and Chelsea in dealing with Grenfell Tower, but the immediate action of authorities like Camden to rehouse all residents who were identified as being at risk shows that one astoundingly bad egg in no way represents the sector. Rather than acknowledging that vast cuts to local government grants may play some role in the ability of councils to deliver and could result in cutting corners, he claimed the public as a whole were losing faith in local authorities.
This came as news to us. When residents were independently surveyed last year, Crawley Borough Council received an 82% satisfaction rating, with 53% of the total saying they were ‘very satisfied’. I suspect the General Election result suggests the Conservatives can’t boast of similar approval. Once again, rather than doing anything to help, the Government are shifting the blame and continuing with the very same policies which have brought about the situation we now find ourselves in. The message to us all came through very strongly: with this Government, you’re on your own.