Javid: local government needs to raise its game

5 Jul 17

Local government needs to open up and raise its game, Sajid Javid has told the Local Government Association’s annual conference.

Delivering a keynote address to the gathering in Birmingham yesterday, Javid highlighted the “serious failings” that emerged in the aftermath of the Grenfell tower fire in west London and said he wanted to reflect on what had gone wrong in local government.

“If the events of the past few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that we have to raise our game,” he said.

“The ties that bind local government to local communities have not snapped. But if we don’t act now, such a time may one day be upon us.”

Councils would not be able to rebuild and reinforce trust with local communities if they hid away from public scrutiny.

“If people are going to trust their elected representatives, they have to see them working in the harsh light of the public eye, not in comforting shadows behind closed doors.

“Not only must democracy exist, it must be seen to exist. It can’t be about decisions made in private meeting rooms… local government must show it is for the people – not just of the people.”

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea faced criticism for the way it responded to the fire, in which at least 80 people are believed to have died. Chief executive Nicholas Holgate resigned on 22 June and was followed a week later by leader Nicholas Paget-Brown. Elizabeth Campbell has taken over as the new Conservative leader of the council.

The borough is expected to face further intervention, with a taskforce set to be appointed to take over some aspects of its work.

Elsewhere in his speech, Javid there was a need for some “honesty” about housing needs.

“There’s a serious shortage of decent, affordable housing in this country,” he said, saying all parties were to blame.

Councils again came in for criticism for out-date planning policies that are not relevant to the needs of communities.

“And then there are those councils that have an up-to-date plan, but have failed to be honest about the level of housing the need in their area,” he said

“It’s not good enough. The era of tolerating such poor, patchy performance is over.”

A consultation - announced in the housing white paper in February this year - on a new way for councils to assess local housing requirements was confirmed and Javid said authorities needed to adopt a straightforward, transparent and consistent approach to local housing needs.

The government will also insist that local plans are reviewed every five year to ensure they “stay honest”, the communities secretary added.

“I’m under no illusion that these plans will require courage to both conceive and executive. There will be tough decisions, difficult conversations. But that is what political leadership is about.”

Javid also invited councils to bid for a share of the £2.3bn housing infrastructure fund, announced in the autumn statement last year, to help them pay for schools, health services and transport new housing development need. The prospectus for the fund was published yesterday.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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