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David Simmonds: Brokenshire is 'good news' for councils

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The new housing and communities secretary is a details man who should prove to be more accessible to councils than his predecessor and take a broader approach to policy, according to the Conservative group leader on the Local Government Association.

David Simmonds, who is also chair of the LGA’s asylum, refugee and migration task group, told LGC he had known and worked with James Brokenshire “over quite a long time”, especially when he was immigration minister. During that time their working relationship was “ramped up” as the government and the LGA dealt with the issue of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Cllr Simmonds said: “He’s very efficient. He’s quite strategic and data-driven. He is very interested in having clear objectives about what each policy is going to deliver and how you measure that… having performance indicators and targets against which you can measure progress.

“He is a positive person to work with in relation to local government.

“He really understood the role of local authorities, how they added value, and why their democratic mandate and relationship with their communities was important to being able to deliver on the objectives the government had.

“He is good news for the sector because he is one of those people who gets it and is familiar with the context of local authorities.”

Appearing before MPs on Monday just hours after being appointed, Mr Brokenshire said local government is “in his blood” because his late father, Peter, used to be chief executive of Epping Forest DC and Greenwich LBC. He also became a director at the Audit Commission where he remained for nine years before retiring.

Mr Brokenshire later added he was “delighted to have been appointed to this new role delivering on housing” but did not mention broader local government.

Sajid Javid, who was housing and communities secretary for almost two years, was often criticised in private by both local politicians and council officers for being aloof and indifferent to the sector’s wants and needs as he concentrated on attempting to tackle the housing crisis.

Major issues in relation to adult social care, fair funding, finance reforms, reorganisation, and the response to Grenfell all await Mr Brokenshire.

LGA chair Lord Porter (Con) said “there is always a risk” key decisions could be delayed when a new secretary of state is appointed as they can take time to understand the issues.

While Cllr Simmonds said he had “a good working relationship with Sajid Javid and his ministerial team” he added “every minister is different”.

Cllr Simmonds said Mr Brokenshire is “somebody really interested in the detail of his responsibilities” including any “facts and figures, and the legal ramifications” of different decisions.

While Mr Javid focused heavily on housing Cllr Simmonds said: “I would expect a broader approach [from Mr Brokenshire].

“There are a number of things on the government’s agenda including adult social care, the opportunity to own your own home, and economic regeneration in areas that feel left behind which councils have a crucial role to play in.

“Whilst I think Saj clearly had in his mind, perhaps because of his personal back story, a real focus on wanting housing to be the big thing, my sense is James Brokenshire will have that broader picture and will be saying, like he did at the Home Office, what are the top three or four things we need to be seen showing we are delivering results on and what is plan around those three or four things? I would expect adult social care, home ownership, housing supply, and homelessness that would be very high up in his in-tray.”

With the new minister having worked for six years under Theresa May when she was home secretary, Cllr Simmonds thought Mr Brokenshire “absolutely” had a better chance at influencing the prime minister’s thinking on crucial matters.

While immigration minister Cllr Simmonds said Mr Brokenshire “was quite willing and happy” to give councils extra freedoms and added: “I would hope we would see some of the same attitude when it comes to the different things we are doing concerning the wider sector.”

Paul Carter (Con), chair of the County Councils Network, said Mr Brokenshire was “an excellent appointment” having also worked closely with him during his time as immigration minister.

“James is well equipped to manage the large and complex local government agenda ahead,” said Cllr Carter.

CCN had “an excellent relationship with Sajid” who had “the fullest understanding of the issues facing county authorities”, said Cllr Carter, who added that Mr Brokenshire has inherited “a major agenda”.

“Major decisions will need to be made, in short order, not least the outcome of the needs-led fair funding review,” said Cllr Carter.

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