The pleasant but somewhat unexpected news that the Conservative group has retaken the chairmanship of the Local Government Association comes at a critical time for the organisation.
This is the first time in the LGA’s history that we have a Conservative majority government and that means we are heading into uncharted territory.
This new combination presents both the biggest opportunity and the biggest threat to the sector being effectively represented by one lobbying organisation. Can we put up a senior team that will be able to work well with central government, and yet still be able to publicly articulate the case on behalf of our members when our sector’s interests cannot be advanced by either the formal or informal route?
That’s why the Conservative group’s choice of chairman is more crucial than it has been at any time and it is for this reason that I am putting my name forward.
I have a strong LGA pedigree, having started off as a member of the housing executive in 2003 and then moving up the ranks through chairing the environment and housing board from 2009-11, becoming a deputy chairman in 2010 and assuming my present role of vice chairman in 2011.
I hope that those involved with the Conservative group would agree I have worked hard to build a strong team that is representative of all types of councils and areas, which is much more inclusive than was sometimes the case previously.
As group leader, I have strived to bring in new talent and given people the space they need to achieve things in a way that works for them and for the sector. The role of LGA chairman is of course a cross-party one. I hope those from other groups would say I am someone they can do business with and that I have always sought to build and maintain good working relationships with them – even when there are legitimate political differences that cannot be resolved.
I hope the LGA’s staff feel that, even though I can be a little blunt at times, I am approachable and someone with whom they can have an honest conversation.
By now you’re probably thinking, “That’s all well and good, but what would you do for us in the future?” Here are a few things to give you a flavour.
We all knew that, whoever won the general election, the sector would be facing more tough decisions. A lesson of the past five years is that such decisions do not inevitably lead to poorer services; indeed, new ways of working can improve outcomes for service users by reducing bureaucracy and duplication.
The success of the Troubled Families programme and the community budgeting pilots are clear examples of this.
However, such outcomes only occur when we embrace innovation and when we are given the freedom to do so by government.
As chairman of the LGA I would want to be at the centre of this change, working with the Department for Communities & Local Government and other departments to redesign the way we work.
A good example of this is adult social care and health. The NHS faces challenges due to an ageing population, with an inevitable impact on social care. Building on our work around the better care fund, we need to ensure that local government and the NHS work even more closely together to meet these challenges.
Devolution is another key issue. I support the move to free up our cities to reach their full potential and would work across party boundaries to speed this up. However, I would not let DCLG lose sight of the fact that our counties are already powerhouses and, with the right freedoms, these houses can become mansions.
In such a diverse city as London, devolution needs to concentrate on moving power down to the boroughs, not up from them.
My final example is Europe. There will be a referendum on our membership of the EU during the course of this parliament and local government’s voice needs to be heard loud and clear alongside business and other interested parties. As part of the renegotiation process, local government must be clear about the specific areas where EU interference must be reduced and about what Whitehall should stop gold-plating.
If the LGA is looking for a chairman who is a great wordsmith, then it’s not looking for me. If it’s looking for a great orator, it’s not looking for me. If the LGA is looking for a chairman to preside over long, drawn-out meetings, it’s not looking for me.
However, if the LGA is looking for someone who cares passionately about local government and about the role the association plays in protecting and promoting it, for someone who can work across political and sectorial boundaries, and for someone who will champion the work that we all do, then it is looking for me.
Gary Porter (Con), leader, South Holland DC, and leader, LGA Conservative group
I may not be a great wordsmith or orator but I'm ready to lead the LGA