DCN chairman Cllr Neil Clarke called for strategic dialogue with Government to boost devolution and financial resourcing necessary to support delivery of 86 vital frontline services and advance the agendas for housing and economic growth, health and wellbeing in district areas – speaking at the DCN Assembly on 5 July held at the LGA Conference in Bournemouth.
“Welcome everyone to this year’s DCN Assembly at the LGA conference.
“I am also especially pleased to welcome the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, for joining us and thank him for his attendance.
“Following Sandra’s announcement of the result of the ballot I was very pleased to see that, even though we are out of the EU, and out of Euro 16, I am still IN at DCN. Thank you very much indeed for all your support. I know this coming year is going to be extremely eventful. More of this later.
“I am privileged to be able to say that DCN represents ALL district councils, and I believe that is significant when it comes to any discussions or lobbying on issues with Government, with ministers and with the Secretary of State.
“Thank you, Greg, for allowing us the time and access to enable sensible debate to take place on the various issues we raise on behalf of district councils.
“Although we are many in body, we are a cross-party represented body pursuing common aims, a diverse membership from every part of the country, …..we are together when it comes to achieving shared goals – better outcomes for the people and places we serve.
“What have we achieved in the last year? At Harrogate last year, I said we needed to focus on the following key issues:
• Economic Growth and Housing Growth
• Collaboration and Improvement
• Financial Security including New Homes Bonus, full retention of Business Rates and more localisation of fees and charges.
“We commissioned The Kings Fund report on the districts’ role in the health prevention agenda, which identified districts as the “sleeping giants” of Public Health and Social Care prevention, recognising we provide amazing value for money and Return on Investment in helping mitigate the burden on the NHS and Social Care.
“Among the many things the report told us was that for every £1 districts invested in preventative services, it saved nearly £70 further down the line. That is a pretty good return on investment in my book.
“We have set in motion a joint working group with CCN , RSN and CIPFA to develop joint proposals for what 100% business rates retention could look like in our district and county areas.
“We have fought hard and secured lobbying victories on key issues such as freedom to increase council tax by 2% or £5 and a three-year stay on negative RSG, roll out of retention of business rates and piloting of localised planning fees.
“What do we do on your behalf? We have launched the APPG for District Councils in order that we can raise awareness of issues affecting District Councils with Parliamentarians, in the hope we can increase their understanding of lobbying on District issues. I thank Mark Pawsey MP for Rugby for taking up the role of chairman of the APPG.
“Our staff development programme continues to prosper, as it has for the last three years, and begins again soon.
“I have also instigated plans for our first DCN annual conference, a two-day event, which will be staging in mid-November.
“So, I have talked about what we have done in the past, but now we need to bring ourselves up to date and look to the future.
“We know the result of the EU referendum and now political intrigue reverberates around the Palace of Westminster, but this isn’t House of Cards – this is for real. We’re talking about real people, real businesses and real communities. Our communities – in district council areas, where we are close to the people, are the most efficient form of local government.
“Greg… I wrote this before your speech…as you said…
“As we await the outcome of the Conservative Party Leadership contest, I have a message for the next Prime Minister.
“We want to work with you, but let’s engage in strategic dialogue to outline the issues affecting district councils, areas that account for nearly 60% of England’s economic output.
“We provide 86 of the 137 essential local government, so it’s important that MPs are left in no doubt that district councils provide an incredibly important part of government delivery. We want to engage in discussion on issues such as devolution.
“Let’s get more deals done, quicker and in a less bureaucratic way than thus far. Where deals are faltering, let’s deliver what the locals want – to engage more civil servants to work on deals quicker. The cost of negotiations is challenging councils’ resources. We want more powers devolved to our local areas, ones that can be tailored to suit local needs, let locals decide whether they want an Elected Mayor or not, rather than it being a deal-breaker.
“Local areas know best what is required to support housing and business growth – One size does not fit all. I hope the next Prime Minister will allow us to drive this agenda much faster and for decisions to be made locally.
“To combine with this, as funds are repatriated from the EU, back to the UK, let us discuss how this funding can be re-directed to local areas or regions to help deliver the large agendas facing local government, not least to support housing and business growth with new infrastructure, and to support the growing prevention agenda relating to health and wellbeing, as I outlined earlier.
“We must take the Business Rates debate forward. We are fully engaged with the joint-working led by DCLG and LGA.
“In addition, I want to use the valuable joint work we have now started with CCN and other stakeholders to present a cogent and sustainable case for signing off by the Government – one prepared by local government for local government.
“Don’t forget Prime Minister, local government is the most efficient part of the Public Sector, but we do need your support, as you need ours.
“Accelerate the localisation of fees and charges and allow us to control our destiny. Hear what we have to say.
“Engage in taking forward reform of the planning system quickly. In this new world, we have to work together to boost housing growth and business growth……and in that respect, to up our game even more on employment and skills. We owe it to the potential in our young people to create the opportunity for them to use their skills and talents with greater innovation and more job creation.
“Time has been spent in many quarters with recrimination and blame and saying what should or should not have been done. We need stability for the sake of UK PLC. I prefer to say, “We are where we are” – so now let’s get together, and get on with the job, grasp new opportunities and work for the future, not for the past.
“The DCN believes in local government that works in partnership in localities to deliver what is right for people and place. Districts working together in clusters and with other private and public sector partners need to be the building blocks for delivering cost effective and relevant public services that people value, including providing leadership of place to ensure vibrancy, prosperity and social cohesion.
“We need the new Prime Minister to lead the stability that is now required, to allow us to plan and re-shape the new look of our economy, resources, communities and lifestyle. The world is watching.
“I look forward to working with all my colleagues across all parties and with the future Government.”