Andrew Stunell at the Local Government Association conference: putting our ideas into practice

Three months ago, if I had said that the Liberal Democrats would be in government, and I’d be a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government, you would have laughed at me. Yet here we are. I’ve fought no less than eight general elections and at the first seven, all we did was tell people what the Liberal Democrats would do if we got into power. This time we get to show them instead.

And with the Local Government Association Conference coming up this week, our priorities on local government will get their turn in the spotlight.

In CLG we’ve not wasted any time in getting stuck in. Three weeks ago I was glad to announce in the House that we would be abolishing the Standards Board for England, and removing the ridiculous rule that stopped councillors from taking part in planning decisions and other decisions at their council because they have an opinion about it – so called pre-determination. Both have unsurprisingly proved popular with colleagues in local government. In that time we’ve also abolished Home Information Packs, ended garden grabbing, and outlined proposals for a new era of openness and transparency in local government.

My colleague Eric Pickles in his speeches over the past few weeks has been fond of telling people his three priorities for communities and local government are “localism, localism, localism”. I’d add another one to that – “localism”! Our coalition has a genuine commitment to decentralising and devolving power, in complete contrast to Labour’s “one-size-fits-all” approach to local government. And it’s one we are passionate about implementing.

As a minister in CLG I now have a chance to put into action things we as a party have only ever dreamed of. If you re-title the “Big Society” as “Community Politics” you may feel better about it – bringing power back from Whitehall and Westminster, from quangos and agencies, and letting local people decide how the money is spent, and on what.

There will be a huge Localism Bill later this year with much of this stuff in it. It will be really groundbreaking. The Bill will set the stage for the long-overdue push of powers out of Whitehall to councils and neighbourhoods right across the country, and give local communities control over housing and planning decisions. It will help set the foundations for the Big Society by radically transforming the relationships between central government, local government, communities and individuals.

Together, these reforms will shift power from the central state back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils. It will also give local people – individuals and community groups – more power over local government and over how public money is spent in their area, and ensure that councillors are more directly accountable to them.

Then comes the hard bit – getting local communities (and councils) to have the self-confidence to get stuck in without waiting for a government circular or clearance from the auditors.

I’ll be talking a lot about this over the next two days in Bournemouth, as will my Conservative colleagues. We have a great opportunity here to really change the way we do local government in this country and put into place Liberal Democrat ideas in a way never before imagined.

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  • Andrew Duffield 5th Jul '10 - 6:27pm

    “There will be a huge Localism Bill later this year…”

    I do hope you remember to include the long-standing Lib Dem commitment to “choice in local revenue raising” Andrew.

  • Please could you tell me how decimating homeless grants is consistent with Lib Dem principles?

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