Twenty senior Conservative councillors have come out in support of David Parsons in his bid to become chairman of the Local Government Association.
The group – which includes 15 council leaders and three group leaders – put their names to a letter endorsing his bid, and criticising the LGA’s current direction and leadership.
The letter claims it is “generally accepted that the LGA has lost its way in recent years” and that the organisation has “become an apologist” for poor performing councillors rather than celebrating the best.
And in words that could be read as a criticism of current chairman Baroness Margaret Eaton, the letter also repeats Cllr Parsons’ call for the association to build bridges with communities secretary Eric Pickles.
“Cllr Parsons is offering a roadmap ahead which we think is the best chance of the LGA re-establishing its raison d’être,” the letter said. “We want a leader who will stand up to Eric Pickles, but equally not pick pointless squabbles with him.”
Baroness Eaton adopted an increasingly challenging stance over Mr Pickles’ frequent criticism of councils throughout the winter. In an interview with LGC in March, she suggested the impending battle to replace her as the reason why some leading Conservatives had not supported her position. However, a spokesman for Cllr Parsons said the association should not have “risen to the bait” of Mr Pickles’ ‘guided localism’.
The signatories, who are mainly from shire districts and counties, also sought to contrast Cllr Parsons’ rural background with that of Merrick Cockell, leader of Kensington & Chelsea RBC and Cllr Parsons’ main challenger for the chairmanship.
“We look forward to Cllr Parsons taking the LGA out into the country as an energetic force… and breaking with the LGA’s past as a metropolitan trade association which struggles to be heard at the top table,” they wrote.
The tone of Cllr Parsons’ campaign drew criticism from members of the LGA’s executive on Thursday. Cllr Parsons was not present at the meeting.
The full text of the letter
As councils prepare to play their part in delivering localism, it is more important than ever that we have the right vehicle to represent the true voice of local authorities.
It is generally accepted that the Local Government Association has lost its way in recent years; far from representing the best of local authorities, it has become an apologist for what we get wrong. It employs rafts of policy experts, but that work often doesn’t seem to connect with the problems on our doorsteps.
Cllr David Parsons is running to become the next LGA chairman on a programme he says will represent a decisive break from the past. We believe his manifesto offers the best and most coherent vision for clawing back the LGA from the margins of Whitehall politics and making it a relevant and significant force.
Council leaders need to feel that the LGA understands and can help them with the problems at large in the country rather than obsessing over its role as a Westminster lobbyist. They need to feel the LGA offers them practical advice and services, and frankly merits the membership fees.
Cllr Parsons is offering a roadmap ahead which we think is the best chance of the LGA re-establishing its raison d’être. We want a leader who will stand up to Eric Pickles, but equally not pick pointless squabbles with him. The LGA needs to shout out that many councils do offer excellent value-for-money services and that it is there with real help for those that believe they can do better.
Up and down the country, there are many examples of innovative good practice by councils that show officers and members are imaginatively seizing the localism and Big Society agenda. We look forward to Cllr Parsons taking the LGA out in to the country as an energetic force to promote this good work, and breaking with the LGA’s past as a metropolitan trade association which struggles to be heard at the top table.
Cllr Ernie White, leader of Blaby DC
Cllr Richard Blunt- Leader of NW Leics DC
Cllr David Slater, Leader of Charnwood BC
Cllr Mike Rook, Leader of Harborough DC
Cllr Paul Bessant, Leader of Hinckley & Bosworth BC Conservatives
Cllr Alan Farnell, Leader of Warwickshire CC
Cllr Jane Scott, Leader of Wiltshire CC
Cllr Roderick Bluh, Leader of Swindon BC
Cllr Eddie Martin, Leader of Cumbria CC
Cllr Stephen Parnaby, Leader of East Riding of Yorkshire Council
Cllr Stephen Baines, Leader of Calderdale MDC Conservatives
Cllr Mike Jones, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council
Cllr John Hart, Leader of Devon CC
Cllr Robert Light, Leader of Kirklees MDC Conservatives
Cllr Craig Humphrey, Leader of Rugby BC
Cllr Neil Clarke, Leader of Rushcliffe BC
Cllr Chris Hayward, Leader Three Rivers DC
Cllr Peter Goldsworthy, Leader of Chorley Council
Cllr Richard Stay, Central Bedfordshire Conservatives
Cllr David Smith, Lichfield DC Conservatives