Communities Secretary Eric Pickles used the Conservative spring conference yesterday to speak about some of his priorities for local government.
In his speech, he drew an interesting parallel with a Private Members Bill brought forward by Margaret Thatcher more than 50 years ago, which opened up council meetings to the press, and his challenge to authorities to be more open and accountable.
Senior executive pay, town hall secrecy and the publication of council newspapers (or ‘town hall Pravdas’ as his speech writers call them) all featured in the conference address and a number of Labour councils came under fire too.
The recent decision by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee to reject Eric Pickles‘ proposals to restrict the publication of council newspapers has reopened a debate on the role such publications should play.
In one corner is the Government, which is strongly critical of councils spending public funds on ‘town hall pravdas’ that they see as little better than propaganda magazines. They are supported by regional and local newspaper publishers who cite them as a threat to their businesses because some charge advertising revenue and publish weekly editions, putting them in direct competition with their papers. Publications like H&F Newsand East End Life (both published by London authorities) are cited of evidence of this trend.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has spoken today about how the principles underpinning his Localism Bill can help transform our cities.
Speaking at The Economist’s Liveable Cities Conference, he outlined his belief that the bill’s key principle – handing power to local people – can be used to fuel economic growth in our metropolitan areas. Until now, most things I have heard or read about localism have focused on the impact of its policies on smaller, rural communities. But it is right to point out that local communities can be found in cities, and wherever people live.
So, the principle of giving city halls more responsibility for housing, planning and economic growth is as relevant to Bristol and Manchester as the grass-roots localism in action in High Bickington, Devon, where villagers are developing housing and community facilities which will be owned by a local group.
Victorian Birmingham and its leader Joseph Chamberlain was spoken of to evoke a vision of the city’s great heritage and global importance.
Today’s leaders will soon find out how well localism works in their cities. The full text of the speech, a vision for cities, can be found here.
Secretary of State Eric Pickles‘ written statement to Parliament outlined his department’s recent undertakings, which included a new initiative to help local communities revitalise disused pubs and social clubs, taking action to make local government more transparent and launching plans to support people to build their own homes.
Who could argue with moves to involve people more closely in running their communities, reduce red tape and devolve power (and responsibility) to grass-roots level?
There were two things about today’s announcement that struck me in particular.
1. There were few surprises: this had been an extremely well trailed package, with plenty of elements announced weeks in advance by Ministers, and Eric Pickles undertaking a round of media interviews yesterday to sell his vision.