Communities secretary Sajid Javid has lectured local authorities to become more open and transparent.
Communities secretary Sajid Javid has told councils they must become more open and transparent in the wake of the Grenfell tower disaster.
Mr Javid used much of his keynote speech at the Local Government Association conference in Birmingham to reflect “on what has gone wrong in local government and what we need to do together to fix it”.
His tone sparked an angry reaction from many listening at the conference in Birmingham. Nick Forbes, Labour group lead at the LGA, described the speech as “patronising and blame shifting” and said he had rarely “been so incensed” by a secretary of state’s speech. Others described it as “lecturing” and criticised Mr Javid for only taking three questions from delagates.
Mr Javid said “so much of the response” to the terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester, and Finsbury Park, and the Grenfell Tower fire, had been “exemplary”. However, he added the Grenfell Tower disaster “simply should not have happened”.
“There were serious failings in the immediate aftermath, failings that created unnecessary suffering for the residents who had already suffered so much,” he said.
Mr Javid said recent events had “taught us…together we must raise our game”. He added: “The ties that bind local government to local communities have not snapped but if we don’t act now then such a time may be upon us. We must rebuild, refresh and reinforce the trust people have in local democracy.”
Rarely have I been so incensed by a Secretary of State speech. Patronising, blame shifting and no mention of cumulative impact of cuts https://t.co/hFTvafzrTb— Nick Forbes (@nick_forbes) July 4, 2017
In what could be viewed as a thinly-veiled dig at Kensington & Chelsea RBC’s decision last week to try and hold its cabinet meeting on the Grenfell Tower fire in private, Mr Javid said restoring people’s faith in councils will not happen “from behind closed doors”.
“It can’t be about decisions made in private meeting rooms or about experts telling people what’s best for them without listening to their concerns,” he said.
Mr Javid failed to address the uncertainty around the future of local government finance sparked by the government’s decision to abandon plans to legislate for the introduction of 100% business rates retention by the end of the decade.
He used a large chunk of his speech to address housing issues. He said it was “just not good enough” that many councils still did not have a local plan in place.
“The era of tolerating such poor, patchy performance is over,” he said.
A consultation is to be launched within a month on a new way for councils to assess housing need in their area as promised in the housing white paper. That document outlined proposals for introducing a standardised methodology for working out how many homes each area needs to build.
Mr Javid said plans would need to be reviewed every five years. The process overall will be more “transparent”, he added.
Bidding for a previously announced £2.3bn fund for infrastructure which will unlock housing developments has also opened.
Mr Javid also reiterated previous commitment to strike housing deals with a “small number” of “ambitious” areas. LGC previously reported how Stoke-on-Trent and Sheffield city councils and Newark & Sherwood Homes - the arm’s length management organisation of Newark & Sherwood DC, are already in discussions with the Department for Communities & Local Government about gaining more flexibilities over housing policy. Mr Javid said he would “consider all tools at my disposal to support” councils wanting to build more homes, but stopped short of specifically saying he would lift the housing revenue account borrowing cap.