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CONSERVATIVE CONFERENCE: LOCAL GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN ACCUSES LABOUR COUNCILS OF CORRUPTION (FULL SPEECH)

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Speech by Conservative party vice chairman with responsibility for local government, Richard Ottaway, to the party'...
Speech by Conservative party vice chairman with responsibility for local government, Richard Ottaway, to the party's annual conference in Bournemouth yesterday:

'They say Christopher Columbus was the first socialist.

When he set out he didn`t know where he was going.

When he got there, he didn`t know where he was.

When he got back, he didn`t know where he had been.

(Rather like John Prescott trying to remember where he parked his car)

It is clear from this excellent debate this afternoon we know where we`ve come from.

We know where we are

and we know where we are going. There is no socialism here.

At this conference last year William Hague said:

'We`ve got business to do. Restoring good local government across the

Country'.

Norman Fowler said:

'Let no one ask where our priorities lie. Local Government, Local

Government and local government'.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I assure you those priorities haven`t changed.

I also take this opportunity, to all of you in local government, to

thank you for your unwavering support for the Party and for your

commitment to Conservative principals. It makes a difference.

As I look at last May`s Local Government gains

As we make our 100th by-election gain since the general election

As the fight-back begins

I see a government shifting uneasily.

The ground under their feet is littered with broken promises on Health, Education and particularly Taxation.

Nowhere is this having more impact than in local government. They

brought in the pension tax. They thought the voters they conned in 97

wouldn`t notice.

But in local government they are feeling the pressure already. They have pensions to provide, and that`s real money.

The Local Government Association calculates that the extra burden on

Council Tax payers will amount to£300m a year * more than£18

per household.

You know, when they introduced this policy, I don`t think they even

realised the impact it would have on local Government, and by that I

mean people, real people who have to pay.

Labour is abusing local government; raising taxes by the back door, by

this time next year it will be the front door.

Some of you may have been around long enough to remember local

government in the 70s when expenditure was running out of control.

Tony Crossland had to tell Labour 'the Party`s over'.

Well, as I see council tax bills rising by 8% this year

plans for a 5% rise in real terms over the next three years,

John Prescott announcing the end of capping,

authorities being given powers to raise the business rate,

Red Ken and his campaign to be mayor of London, pressing for a London

tax on businesses

And can I just hear the sounds of that good old Labour song `Happy days are here again' for profligate Labour councils the party isn`t over

Its beginning all over again.

Look out if you live in Bristol, St Helens, Sedgefield, Hartlepool or

Salford. Your Labour Council is charging the highest council taxes in

Britain.

But the prize for the highest council tax of all goes to the Liberals in Liverpool.

Blair and Ashdown say they agree on many issues. Setting this country`s highest council tax is one of them.

Last May saw us make our first steps in our Local government fight-back.

We gained 250 seats winning from Labour, Liberals and independents

alike.

The key battlefield was London.

In Hillingdon we wrested overall control away from Labour.

In Kingston we kicked out the Liberals.

In Bexley we won outright.

But is wasn`t easy. You all read the reports of how we were going to

lose Wandsworth and Westminster.

The flagships going down like the Titanic.

The press were buzzing like bees round a honey pot looking for 'wobbly' of Wandsworth; 'whinger' of Westminster.

The Government did its best to drag them down. They lowered their

support grant; they rubbished them in the Commons and to their friends

in the press.

But they forgot the maxim - `trust the people'. They forgot Wandsworth

had the lowest council tax in Britain and 14 chartermarks for the

quality of its services, with Westminster close behind.

When the public woke up on 8th May our majority in both boroughs had

increased.

In Putney, a seat with a Labour MP, every councillor was a Conservative.

In Westminster, the spin doctors of Millbank Tower, found themselves

represented by Conservatives.

Outside London we gained hundreds of seats taking control of Runnymede.

The 12 liberals who offered themselves for election in Tunbridge Wells

were all swept from office as we regained control.

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells is disgusted no longer!

But let`s not delude ourselves. The big test is next May when 13,000

council seats will be fought right across the country.

It is the major campaign in the four-year local Government`s cycle. It

will set the tone for the European elections and the second half of this parliament.

We must choose the best candidates we can find. We want men and women of calibre with an understanding of community service, and I mean service.

We must mount a professional campaign.

We must communicate a clear and united message about our record in local government.

In and out of Parliament we must highlight the shortcomings of our

opponents

And there will be no substitute for hard work on the doorstep.

It won`t come easy.

We can`t sit and wait for the pendulum to swing our way.

Let me tell you the story of Councillor Tony Elias from Tandridge.

In 1994 Tony Elias stood in a Labour-held ward. Labour had 51% of the

vote. For two months he visited every house in the ward.

He took up this cause, that cause, he networked at local level and the

result:

Tony Elias won the seat from Labour.

But he didn`t stop there. He kept up the good work by staying involved, keeping in touch. Last May when he was up for re-election he won 71% of the vote; Labour has 12%. He has a majority of 55% over the next candidate.

Tony Elias has shown us what can be done right across the country.

That, was how it was done in Bexley, Tunbridge Wells and Runnymede this year.

That is how it`s going to be done right across the country next year.

Ladies and Gentlemen, just before the summer recess, the government

published its long-awaited white paper on local government.

It proposes many changes and structures - some we will oppose, some we

will support.

After all, much of it is our idea.

They claim to be the creators of Public Private Partnerships - rubbish.

What do they think Michael Heseltine was doing when he introduced Urban Development Grants, City Challenge, Urban Development Corporations, Single Regeneration Budgets?

We've had Public Private Partnerships for decades - as they well know!

They`re even going to abandon competitive tendering and replace it

with 'best value'. More rubbish!

We know that for Labour this is code for in-house contracts and trade

union dominance...here we go again, jobs for the boys.

Our approach in evaluating the Government`s proposals will be

straightforward. First, do they improve value for money for service

users and tax-payers?

Secondly, will they increase the accountability of councils to voters?

We share the Government`s aim to increase voter turnout. But, come on Mr Prescott, do we really need gimmicks like polling stations in

supermarkets?

Last May one of the pilot schemes was at Tesco`s in my constituency. The polling district had a traditionally high turnout.

Do you know what happened? Of the 7 polling stations in the ward it had the lowest turnout.

There is a lesson here Mr Prescott: shoppers don`t go to supermarkets to get their politics off the shelf.

To the people of this country, the library, the village hall, the local school is the community. It is where people go when they want to

participate in the democratic process.

So, Mr Prescott, stop assuming that your pathetic cool Britannia

gimmicks can override traditions that have lasted us well for centuries. The village hall isn`t the problem.

When John Prescott published his white Paper, he looked a little uneasy.

He had that sort of look on his face that reminded me of a particularly repulsive cat, startled by a gesture of affection.

He spoke cautiously on the quality of local government. No doubt he was influenced by the mixed messages of his prime minister who, before the general election said:

'Today we can look at the performance of Labour Councils with pride. We should be proud of what we do and shout it from the rooftops.'

After the general election, the Prime Minister said

'There are just too many councils failing to deliver acceptable

standards of service to their citizens'.

He was right. But with most councils under labour control, who is

failing the nations` citizens?

Certainly not us Mr Blair.

In Hull, infighting is the order of the day.

In Glasgow, cronyism is rampant.

In Doncaster the local police station has its own council fraud

investigation room.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the length and breadth of this country there

are no less than 30 labour councils under investigation for fiddling

expenses, corruption, sleaze, incompetence and downright criminal

offences - that`s before they consider inefficiency.

Do you want to know where they are? Here.

It is a picture of waste and destruction unprecedented in the history of this country.

It is a scandal of such breadth and depth that we must not hesitate to

draw it to the public`s attention.

We must expose the broken promises, the unfulfilled pledges, the

betrayal of our citizens.

We must show the public that there is a way.

The Tory way.

An efficient Labour council is as rare as an unsigned Jeffrey Archer

novel.

The truth is that conservative-run local authorities are better and

everyone knows it.

We provide the best local government.

quality services

lower taxes

civic pride

Let`s tell the public that under Conservative-controlled

administrations, we hold onto our Conservative values.

But we don`t fear change

We live in a fast moving world. We have to move forward.

Never forget - if you go on doing what you`ve always done, you`ll go on getting what you have always got.

The great golfer, Arnold Palmer, knew this.

After getting a hole in one was approached by a journalist who said

Athat was the luckiest shot I ever saw'.

Arnold Palmer replied 'you know it`s a funny thing, the more I practice, the luckier I get'.

Just remember, `luck` is when preparation meets opportunity.

Go back to your wards, buoyed up by the energy and enthusiasm that this Conference brings us and turn it into votes.

Remember, there is no finishing line in politics.

It is an endless race, but under William Hague`s leadership we can lift ourselves up a ladder that will lead to success.

First success in the local government elections in May.

Then success in the European elections, followed by the first Mayor of

London.

These are all stepping-stones to the greatest prize of all - victory at the next General Election.

Together, let`s start with a win next May.

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