Sajid Javid has struck a conciliatory tone, admitting he holds no “monopoly on wisdom”, in his first major appearance since sparking uproar by warning the sector faced a “looming crisis of trust”.
The communities secretary last night spoke of his pride of representing councils’ interests in Cabinet meetings, in sharp contrast to the negative message he put across in his showpiece speech to the Local Government Association in Birmingham last week.
Speaking at a parliamentary reception held by the Local Government Information Unit, Mr Javid said: “I know that some people weren’t happy with parts of my speech but I want to be clear this evening I love what local government does for this country.”
Among the critics of his speech Mr Javid quoted were LGA Labour group leader Nick Forbes, Oldham MBC councillor Shaid Mushtaq (Lab) and LGC’s editor Nick Golding.
“Nick Golding from the LGC, he called it astonishing – I’m fairly sure he meant that in a very good way,” said Mr Javid with a hint of sarcasm. “Depending on who else you listen to it went down like a bucket of cold sick or my personal favourite is like cat food lasagne.”
Mr Javid said that without the work of council employees including street cleaners and social workers, “this country simply could not function”.
“I am very very proud to represent you and defend you and speak up for you around the Cabinet table,” he continued. “Every day of the week up and down the country we see amazing work by councillors, the officials, officers and all the employees that work for councils.”
The communities secretary insisted he had “utmost respect” for local government’s ability to deliver but insisted his desire to improve the sector would mean he sometimes had to say “things you don’t all agree with”. He added: “Good friends are honest and open with each other.”
“That honesty works both ways – it’s a two way street,” Mr Javid said. “I’m not hiding here in Westminster, my door is always open, my phone is always on. I want you to talk to me, to tell me what you think all year round. If we don’t see things the same way that’s fine.”
Mr Javid concluded: “Only through a strong, open and constructive relationship between local and central government can we make sure that councils are able to deliver the services we all need.
“None of us has a monopoly on wisdom and local government has long been more trusted than its national counterpart; I want that very high level of satisfaction to continue.”