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Eric Pickles for King

Eric Pickles for KingJust before we start on the main story of this article, we want to digress for a moment - because we think it's important for our readers to know there seems to be a sea-change taking place in Fylde Town Hall.

We're not yet sure enough of our ground, but the sense we get from talking to Councillors from all sides is that since the Commissar went, and Cllr David Eaves took charge, a huge black cloud that had hung over the Council for years, has lifted.

We're hearing stories of Conservative and other councillors sitting down and discussing things together in a friendly atmosphere. We hear talk of co-operation and better sharing of information by the ruling group, and we hear stories of Councillors (of all sides) putting forward a united front to officers. We also hear tell of officers being given clearer direction.

If all this turns out to be right, then we say Hallelujah! - and about time.

One cynic did remind us that there is just about a year to go to the next election, and this conversion on the road between Fylde and Damascus might have something to do with that.

We agree. It might.

And whether or not it will work if that is the case, we're not at all clear.

But even if it is a cynical electoral ploy, if it brings back proper democracy, and people working together, and hopefully even a return to the Council and Committee system (which was a commitment in the (national) Conservative Manifesto and was the root cause of much of the foolishness that afflicted Fylde Council), then it will have done what it needs to do.

We'll bring you more on the changes as we become more confident in understanding them.

Now to the substance of this article - 'Eric Pickles for King'. We're starting a new movement today. We want to propose Eric Pickles for King, (or if that is disrespectful to the sitting Monarch, then Emperor or whatever).

This article is a very rare counterbalance.

We would not expect to publish a Ministerial Statement without having to explain what it means. This is because Ministerial statements are always couched in such carefully crafted terms that you have to understand (small 'm') mandarin-speak, and be able to read between the lines to understand what's going on (and that's mostly what we are here for).

But not this Ministerial Statement.

Not Eric Pickles'.

He's a bluff, no nonsense Yorkshireman (sadly) who takes no prisoners - and from what we have seen so far, he seems to be made entirely of that commodity so rare in politicians - common sense.

He was put in charge of 'Communities and Local Government' which oversees the relationships between central and Local Government, so he is now the 'Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government'

And so far, everything he has touched has been fixed.


Day 1: He abolished HIPs (sadly for one of our readers who was made redundant as a result), but to the delight of everyone else.

Day 2: He told Councils not to take any more notice of New Labour's ridiculous, artificial, top-down housing target numbers in the Regional Spatial Strategy that have seen developers swarming over Fylde's green lands like a plague of locusts.

Day 3: He effectively abolished the RSS itself.

The day before the Bank Holiday he told all councils to have their Planning Enforcement Officers on hand and contactable over the Bank Holiday weekend in order to serve Stop Notices on developers that tried to jump the gun and apply for retrospective Planning Permission after they had laid foundations over the weekend.

This week he has reversed the decision of the previous Government to consider residential gardens as Brownfield land (and thus pulled up sharp the development of extra houses large gardens).

He's been talking about the need to re-open existing Planning Inquiries where the appellants case has been made on the basis of the RSS housing numbers!

He's even talking about abolishing Regional Assembly and, before the election, Cameron was talking about abolishing the whole of the Planning Inspectorate (That deserves a HUGE cheer).

As you can tell we're 'well impressed' as they say in modern parlance.

Last week he made a speech (seemingly to the 'Society of Local Authority Chief Executives' - SOLACE - and yes, it often is a lonely place to be. This was probably their annual conference and the reason for his opening remarks).

You can see the official version here, but we're so impressed, we've risked his wrath and reproduced it verbatim here because the speech on the Government website will eventually disappear.

Queen's Speech Forum
Date of speech 11 June 2010
Location Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London
Event: Total Politics event

Transcript of the speech as delivered.

You might have noticed over the couple of weeks that I've been making some remarks and comments about the chief executives of councils. I can reveal today that it's all been part of a heavily planned, tightly executed campaign. I've decided to run to be Chief Executive of SOLACE. And I'm looking forward to hearing what David has to say.

A friend of mine, a senator from Wisconsin, once said that "if you don't like the folks, don't be in our business." The previous government didn't like the folks. It didn't trust them. It always believed that it knew best. And we've just had thirteen years of the most centralising government in history. A controlling government, obsessed with targets, inspections and micromanagement. It left local government toothless. Community groups out in the cold. Residents powerless to change anything.

We've all seen the results. Voting rates plummeted - there's no point in voting if nothing changes. No matter who they vote for the council always gets in. There was no room for creativity or innovation in public services. You just followed the rules and ticked the boxes. And the money followed the power: so London and the South East grew at the expense of everywhere else in the country.

So when people ask me about my priorities in Government, I have 3 very clear priorities: localism, and we'll weave that into everything we do from parks to finance to policy. My second priority is localism, and my third is... localism.

Because if you want to restore faith in politics, you make sure that local government is properly accountable to the voters.

If you want to rebuild a fragile national economy, then you don't strangle business with red tape and let bloated regional bodies make all the decisions.

If you want people to feel connected to their communities. Proud of their communities. Then you give people a real say over what happens in their communities. And the power to make a difference.

Because we like the folks. We don't think we know better than they do. And we trust them to know what's best for them.

So we are determined to wrest control from the bureaucrats, the quangos, and central government departments. Taking power pushing it as far away from Whitehall as possible. I want you to understand, I am deadly serious about this.

We are definitely going to do this. We are going to shake up the balance of power in this country. We are going to change the nature of the constitution. Be in no doubt about our commitment to localism. I know I look like an unlikely revolutionary, but the revolution starts here.

It won't be in a single action or a single law. It will be through dramatic and bold actions, but also small and incremental changes. Localism is the principle, the mantra, and defines everything we do.

You might think, well, all governments talk like this. But we've proved it by getting on and doing it.

  • We've made HIPS history and already the number of homes being put up for sale has gone up by 35 per cent.
  • We've given a lifeline to thousands of businesses in ports who had huge backdated business rates hanging over their head.
  • We've scrapped the top down housing targets and meaningless regional spatial strategies.
  • We've put an end to the 'garden grabbing' which has seen acres of land lost to intensive development.
  • We've cut the ring fencing and red tape which comes attached to hundreds of millions pounds worth of central government grants.
  • We're leading by example in making central government more open, more transparent, more accountable.
  • And we're showing we're serious about saving money. Taking pay cuts ourselves, shining the spotlight on public sector pay, and leaving the public to draw their own conclusions.

That's not bad for four weeks work, if I do say so myself. And we have more in store for the next few weeks.

Everything we've done has been about giving up control, restoring the balance of power. So by the time that the localism bill is introduced later in the year, we'll already start to localism taking shape and becoming a reality.

That bill will go even further in giving voters more power over local government and local spending. It will free up local government from the shackles of central government control. And it will continue the overhaul of the planning system: to put the community back in charge of how their area develops.

But there are three things I want you to understand about localism.

First, if this is going to have an effect, local government has got to be ready to step up to the plate. Seize the opportunities that are coming your way. Don't wait around for us to tell you what to do.

There are already councils who are stepping up.

Windsor and Maidenhead, with their ground breaking recycling scheme, showing the future of modern refuge collection.

Essex, with its hugely ambitious programme to transform the way it works and improve the services it offers to residents.

City Hall, putting huge amounts of data online as part of their commitment to transparency and accountability.

These councils aren't waiting around.

Kent's not waiting around. Hammersmith and Fulham aren't waiting around. No council should be waiting around.

Second, localism isn't just about giving power back to local government. We're not talking about a tug of war between you and me.

It's even more important that we push power downwards and outwards to the lowest possible level. Out to the folks themselves.

Because if people know they can make a difference, then there's a reason to stand up and be counted.

We want to make sure people can take control and take responsibility in their street, their estate, their town. Solving problems and taking action for themselves. With neighbourhoods, people working together, as the basis for the big society.

And my third and final point is that this means there has never been a better time to be involved in local government.

No one working in local government signed up to be told what to do for the rest of their lives by Whitehall.

So there is a real opportunity for councillors today:

  • to have much more fulfilling, rewarding careers
  • to exercise genuine choice and power
  • to change the face of their neighbourhoods
  • to actually make a difference to people's lives

Local government will no longer be the poodle of central government. And together, we are going to be part of the most radical shake up of power there has been for generations.

Thank you very much.

Now that doesn't take a lot of explaining, does it?

We detect some 'negative' things that will flow on from it of course - not least is that now you have all this freedom to raise Council Taxes for the things you and your community want, you won't need as much money from us in Government will you?

But even there, he has said he will freeze the next year's council tax at current year levels, and seek to freeze it for a second year by agreement with local authorities.

He also said "The Government has made clear that deficit reduction is its most urgent priority. On Monday, 24 May, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Chief Secretary to the Treasury therefore announced that the Government would save over £6 billion from spending during this financial year. Included in that savings package were £1.166 billion reductions in grants to local government. I have today placed in the Library of the House information on the revenue and capital grants which will be reduced."

We've looked at them(xls spreadsheet) and you'll be pleased to know that Fylde (and Wyre) have no reductions in their grants this current year to achieve the £6bn savings - which is also excellent news.

Blackpool provides about £2.8m of the savings in the current year so far as we can see.

That's not to say next year will be as easy.

It won't.

But at least there won't be any cuts in current year schemes for Fylde.

If Pickles sticks to his guns - and the start he has made shows he is serious - then we say power to his elbow, and we hope he keeps going even harder.

However, we're awfully glad that it's come after the Commissar is no longer leader at Fylde.

Just imagine the damage he could have done with the sort of power that's likely to be handed down to local Councils like Fylde in the future.

Dated:  13 June 2010


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