‘Districts Delivering Growth’ was the dominant theme of the DCN’s inaugural national conference – which was held at the Chesford Grange Hotel, Kenilworth from 2 to 3 February 2017.
Since the Brexit referendum vote, economic growth has assumed even greater importance as the axis around which local government must pivot its activities.
A week prior to the conference we had seen the publication of a green paper on Industrial Strategy and legislation to enable the 100% retention of business rates. On the opening day of the conference the Brexit White Paper was published and delegates were preparing for the much anticipated new Housing White Paper
As a network our ability to secure a trio of high-profile ministerial speakers – Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, Business, Energy and Industrial Secretary, Greg Clark and Housing and Planning Minister Gavin Barwell – to this inaugural conference was clear proof that the Government places great stock in the potential of districts to deliver growth.
Sajid Javid praised districts for their ‘can do attitude’ noting their strong track record of managing the heavy-lifting of deficit-reduction in the past six years while delivering impressively on housing, efficiency and local economic growth.
The topic of the future of devolution in district areas and the place of districts in an evolving local government structure was raised. And the Communities Secretary insisted the process was alive and well, adding he would turn his attention to bids not included in the first round of mayoral elections after May.
He also restated his pledge that when it comes to determining structure, ‘one-size does not fit all’ – and his personal philosophy of putting what works best for the communities we serve above rigid, top-down ideology and structures.
Speaking in advance of the Housing White Paper, housing minister Gavin Barwell noted the success of districts as the housing and planning authorities in siting more than one-in-two every new build homes nationwide. He also acknowledged the important role local authorities wishing to get back into building homes could play in boosting supply.
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Greg Clark told delegates that district councils were crucial to delivering the growth vision outlined in his green paper and had a real opportunity to influence the Industrial Strategy as it is developed over the coming months.
He told the conference that now was the ideal opportunity to respond vigorously and creatively to the industrial strategy – urging local government to seize the initiative and tell central government how, based on experience and evidence, local economies should be shaped. In his speech, chair of the Midlands Engine, Sir John Peace,also stressed the importance of connectivity and agility in driving the post-Brexit economic revival.
As an inaugural event, the conference – attended by more than 180 delegates – played out in a spirit of vibrant hope and courageous collective resolve to rise to the challenges we face.