Two of the candidates to be the next chair of the Local Government Association have promised to seize on the current chaos within central government to strengthen councils’ role.
Voting in the battle to replace Lord Porter as chair of the LGA opens tomorrow. As the Conservatives retained control of the LGA at the local elections the next chair will be chosen by Conservative councillors on a weighted voting system.
They will be asked to choose between Sevenoaks DC leader Peter Fleming, Hillingdon LBC deputy leader David Simmonds and Central Bedfordshire Council leader James Jamieson.
While current LGA deputy chair David Simmonds and LGA Conservative group lead James Jamieson had long been expected to stand Cllr Fleming was a late entry to the contest.
He told LGC he had only decided to stand two weeks ago.
“There is one real reason for me and that’s the huge opportunity that local government has at this moment in time that I don’t believe we’ll see again for a generation.
“This is an opportunity to set out a new deal, more than the finances, a fundamental shift in the way central and local government works.
“I have worked with both James and David for a long time. I think they would manage the organisation brilliantly, but would they lead us in a fundamental shift in the politics of this country?”
Cllr Fleming highlighted how mayors in the US serving a population of sixty or seventy thousand had as much power as England’s metro mayors covering populations of millions.
“That has got to change. Everything is coming together to say that we desperately need our towns and cities all over our country to be really set free post Brexit or not-Brexit, whatever it looks like.
“Westminster can pull the levers as much as they want but they’re not really attached to anything.”
Cllr Simmonds told LGC as LGA chair he would deliver a “renewal of local government”. He stressed this did not mean reorganisation but councils “doing more things than they are at the moment”.
He said: “We are the people that keep the country running… The UK is already far too centralised even if it were not for Brexit. There’s a strong argument for local government doing more in areas like transport and health.”
He suggested local government could take a lead on coming up with a solution to the sustainability of social care while “national government is tied up in trade negotiations” with the EU and others and take a bigger role in overseeing schools including academies, something he said central government was currently struggling with.
Cllr Simmonds said he had a track record of being able to hold the different factions and political groupings within the LGA together and of winning arguments with government. He said recent successes included getting the government to recognise the financial implications of its proposed new domestic violence duty and ensuring funding for Syrian Resettlement Scheme.
“I’ve got a proven track record of being able to communicate positive messages about local government particularly when the national situation faces further chaos,” he said.
“When our reputation is positive we are in a stronger position to make the case for the resources we need.”
LGC asked Cllr Jamieson for an interview but he had not responded at time of going to press.
Councillors will also be voting on a number of other senior positions at the LGA. Warwickshire leader Izzi Seccombe is standing unopposed as Conservative group leader and LGA vice chair.
The leaders of South Norfolk and South Kesteven DCs, John Fuller and Kelham Cooke, are competing to be deputy group leader.