Tag Archives: local government association

The Liberal Democrats are the party of rural communities

For as long as I can remember, the mantra has been that the Conservative Party is the party of the countryside. My question is, why? Have they done anything for rural areas or have they simply taken them for granted?

It is time that we who live and work here in our communities and understand far more about rural issues than our opposition, took on that role. This year, on 2 May 2019, the public in many areas gave us their confidence and elected around 704 new councillors, many of them in rural and coastal areas. We are now in control in 49 councils either alone or in partnership. A clear majority of these are rural or coastal or both.

Now is the time to share best practice and strengthen our policy for rural delivery.

Rural and coastal communities are individual and have characters of their own. How do the Liberal Democrats work with that and make it work?

Campaigning needs to be the same but different to that in urban areas. Liberal Democrats are far better at working on the ground than other parties but in rural areas it’s remembered and valued by constituents.

Knocking on doors across a rural area will pay dividends if you do it year in and year out. Meeting people in the back of beyond where the opposition rarely go, stays with those residents and many repay the work. Knocking on the doors of new residents on the electoral roll is also a winning step.

Regular newsletters touching the whole of the electoral area keep residents abreast of local issues. Your work is of course important in both rural and urban areas, but in many rural areas, residents frequently cannot get that local information easily and you are providing a real service in doing that.

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Fire Services: Campaigning in Local Communities and Parliament

As one of our lead members at the Local Government Association, I have worked to ensure that our national campaigns are linked to what’s happening in local communities. There are a variety of ways to do this, but I hope this article is a helpful example.

In 2015, the Conservative Government launched a consultation on a ‘joined up’ approach to Police and Fire Services. Nationally, Fire Brigade Union General Secretary Matt Wrack, in January 2016, described the national proposal as a “half baked suggestion” and accused “one or two” PCCs supporting the plan of “empire building”. He told the BBC: “There’s very little evidence, there’s no research been carried out, there’s no support for it among firefighters and there’s no support for it among police officers, there’s no support among local communities and yet the government seems to be intent on forcing it though.”

Here in York and North Yorkshire, these proposals led to the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner spending more than £140,000 on consultants to prepare a business case on and unwanted takeover of the local fire service. We have campaigned in our communities for a fair deal for local Fire Service funding, but the unpopular takeover took place following Government agreement in November 2018.

In order to campaign locally and nationally, I worked with Liberal Democrat peers, including Baroness Kath Pinnock as our national communities and fire services spokesperson, and Baroness Angela Harris, to table a motion of regret in the House of Lords and issue press releases. This debate took place on the 21st November 2018, where peers were asked if they regretted the decision by the Government to agree the takeover of North Yorkshire Fire Authority, following other takeover examples nationally.

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Not all hanging together

Back in the late 1990s, the various local government associations for county councils, district councils and metropolitan authorities decided that it would be best to work together rather than in separate silos: so the Local Government Association was born.

The principle is obvious: local government, unprotected by a written constitution and loathed by much of the press, needs to make its case with central government, which can legislate away its powers and much of its money at the drop of a hat, regardless of the consequences on services or communities. MPs know best, after all, and Whitehall knows even better than MPs.

Conservative-controlled Surrey County Council seems keen on tearing up this approach. Like all shire counties it is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to social care: government grants have been cut, as part of never-ending austerity, while the demand for services rises annually as we all live longer.

The proposal for a 15% increase in the council tax precept drew intakes of (sometimes admiring) breath from around the country but we all suspected that the referendum necessary to approve such a large increase would be lost. It must, we thought, be principally a political move to put pressure on Tory ministers with seats in Surrey.

Amazingly, this cynicism proved to be close to the mark. Accidentally leaked texts showed the Surrey Tory Leader negotiating some sort of deal on behalf of his council (good for his council but bad for other councils who don’t have this sort of access to government). Ministerial denials followed as news got out: and the Government pretended that the contacts were just routine – not specific deals for Surrey.

Sadly the accident-prone Tory Leader of Surrey has been caught out again (see Guardian) because someone secretly recorded the Tory group meeting on 7 February.

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Liberal Democrats celebrate top Councillors and Council Groups

Baroness Sal Brinton, Lib Dem President presented the Lib Dem Council Group of the Year Awards at the Local Government Conference in Manchester in June, with awards for Lib Dem Council Groups across the Country who are leading the Lib Dem fightback from the grass roots, these included: 

City of York Liberal Democrat Group – Council Group of the Year Award

–       This group bucked the national trend to win 4 seats

–       They came back after losing seats in the 2011 elections. Key campaigns included:

o   Keeping a recycling depot open, including a 2,700 strong petition, press work and council motion

o   Got the Local Plan revised to deliver housing but …

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The Local Government slot: winning with localism

It’s very possible to get a bit glum at the moment isn’t it? All the talk is about cuts and the health service reforms with our opponents blithely ignoring the facts that they were a principal cause of the deficits and that they would have had to deal with the growing problems of the NHS.

So when I am down a bit I think of the many good things that have been done by this government and work out how I can take full advantage of them both politically and for my community.

Chief amongst these is the continued drive for localism. …

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Local Government Association Lib Dems announce election results

ALDC reports:

The Liberal Democrat Group in the Local Government Association has announced the results of its elections to group positions and the various LGA commissioners, boards and panels. Those elected are listed below with the results available here and the full breakdown of the results by stage available here.

Group Executive

Group Leader – Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth (Elected unopposed)
Deputy Leader (Policy) – Chris White, Hertfordshire (Elected unopposed)
Deputy Leader (Political) – Dorothy Thornhill, Watford
Group Chair – Jill Shortland, Somerset (Elected unopposed)
Group Whip – Howard Sykes, Oldham (Elected unopposed)

See the full list of those elected at the ALDC website

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Opinion: “The Importance of Teaching” White Paper – putting Lib Dem policy into action?

After a year’s work in the run up to the General Election co-writing the Liberal Democrats’ Equity and Excellence education policy paper with other members of the 5-19 Education Policy Working Group, I opened the Coalition Government’s first education White Paper with understandable trepidation.

Nothing can be more important than giving every child a fair start in life, but the education system inherited from Labour offered some young people pretty much the best education system anywhere in the world, while leaving others ill-equipped, under-funded, and lacking the skills needed to get on in life.

The White Paper launched by the government today, called The Importance of Teaching takes as its starting point the unflattering international comparisons of the performance and skills of our pupils. Its critique of where and why the school system is underperforming is one that will be very familiar to most Liberal Democrats. It is a vision for a system based on excellence, underpinned by freedom and fairness: an education system which challenges low aspiration and achievement and where school-level innovation and diversity are seen as strengths to be welcomed.

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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 …

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