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Clark fixes clear idea of ambitions

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LGC’s front cover casts the communities minister in the role of a superhero this week.

LGC front cover 9 July 2015


This is not an attempt to flatter but to encapsulate the job description Greg Clark appears to have created for himself.

Fixing a clear idea of his ambition from the honeymoon period of his first few weeks will help local authorities hold him to account as the years and cuts come to pass.

So what kind of communities minister can local government expect Mr Clark to be?

In his speech at the Local Government Association conference, he promised to act as a “tireless advocate” for local authorities, “fighting for our cause around the cabinet table and Whitehall”.

On devolution, he pledged to establish a network of “muscular communities” across the nation with his ministerial team, many of whom met and mixed with delegates in the Harrogate conference hotels.

Having a “tireless advocate” fighting for local government around the cabinet table is a nice thought.

It would certainly make a change from what councils have come to expect from their communities secretary.

Mr Clark’s predecessor, Eric Pickles, appeared to be an unyielding advocate of cuts among his ministerial colleagues.

But just how much can councils expect Mr Clark’s approach to differ from that of the allegedly super-villainous Pickles?

Clues can be found in the text of his conference speech and his interview with LGC.

The local government settlement for which he would argue would be the “most reasonable” one that made savings in a “fair, transparent and intelligent way”.

While he wanted authorities to be “ambitious” about devolution, there would be no “new cash” to hand out.

Extra income would only come by attracting private sector investment or, as he told LGC in an interview, by “repatriating” money previously annexed from local government by Westminster.

Decisions about local government would be made in a “hard-headed” fashion he said in his speech, in a phrase mirrored earlier that week by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

If he plays the role he has cast for himself, the communities secretary’s fight for councils’ corner will only be as good as the case he can make around the cabinet table.

He is, of course, no superhero; the success of his advocacy will not depend on some kind of supernatural influence over the Treasury.

It will instead rely on the strength and scale of local government bids for devolution, offered to a government with a mandate to cut rather than inflate public spending.

Councils can and should rise to that challenge by making the case for the muscular communities they and the communities secretary wants.

It would then be over to Mr Clark to prove that he is up to his job.

  • The next print issue of LGC will be on 23rd July. Check for daily news, comment and analysis
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