Sajid Javid has failed in his role as local government’s champion and lacked leadership in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, Labour’s shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne has said.
Addressing the Local Government Association conference yesterday, Mr Gwynne repeatedly personally criticised the communities secretary in a speech that sought to capitalise on the anger expressed by delegates following Mr Javid’s address on Tuesday. Mr Javid used much of his keynote speech to reflect “on what has gone wrong in local government and what we need to do together to fix it”.
In contrast Mr Gwynne said the sector had responded to the need to test cladding and reassure residents in the wake of the disaster with “the urgency it required”.
Mr Gwynne said Mr Javid had “passed the buck and refused to admit it is his government that has got a lot to answer for”.
Expressing concern about Mr Javid’s comments, Mr Gwynne said: “He has failed as your ‘champion’ in central government.”
He said local government had shown “leadership, competence and empathy that has been sorely lacking in central government, and from the secretary of state for communities and local government”.
Mr Gwynne added: “He told you that local government faced a looming crisis in confidence - he’s wrong. It is his government that are facing the looming crisis in confidence.”
Later he added: “With the secretary of state shifting blame to local government - my first priority in this job is to ensure that you have a champion in Westminster in me.
“So I say this to you secretary of state stop talking down our councils and councillors. The failings of one council should not be used as an excuse to talk down those councils rising to the challenges every day.”
Mr Gwynne called for the government to provide funding to councils required to make housing safety improvements in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington & Chelsea RBC. He claimed the bill could be at least £600m.
Mr Gwynne also used his speech to call for “clarity” on the future funding of local government and said discussion at the conference showed it was not a party political issue.
He promised a Labour government would end austerity, lift the housing revenue account borrowing cap, and introduce measures to revive ailing high streets.
Mr Gwynne said: “My message to government is this: You cannot empower local government if you impoverish it.”
Writing for LGC this week Mr Gwynne’s shadow local government team colleague Jim McMahon said Labour would review council tax and business rates and consider replacing them with a land value tax.
Mr Gwynne, whose political career began as a councillor on Tameside MBC as a 21-year-old, told delegates he understood the difficult decisions councils had had to make “as a result of the rigid adherence to austerity” as his wife was a cabinet member there.
“Why is it this government can find money for the DUP to prop them up in a shoddy deal but can’t find the money for our public services?,” he asked.
Mr Gwynne said the government had “kicked the can down the road” on adult social care funding.
He said: “The fact is adult social care is in crisis… These are people’s families. What kind of society are we when we can’t prioritise decent care and help when people need it.”
He echoed calls made by Labour mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham yesterday for combined authorities and regions to be involved in Brexit negotiations.
He said: “With Brexit must come genuine and meaningful devolution, and regional and local leaders need to be involved in the process of leaving the EU and shaping what post-Brexit Britain will look like.”