Buckinghamshire CC leader Martin Tett has ruled himself out of the running for the leadership of the Conservative group on the Local Government Association, but called for non-metropolitan areas to have greater influence within the organisation.
Cllr Tett was one of the names in the frame to stand when the group leadership role fell vacant in March after Surrey CC leader David Hodge resigned over his involvement in the county’s alleged ‘sweetheart deal’ with ministers for social care funding.
Kent CC leader Paul Carter has confirmed his intention to stand, while Hillingdon LBC deputy leader David Simmonds, who took the Tory group leader role on an interim basis following Mr Hodge’s resignation, is also running for the position.
As well as chairing the LGA’s environment, economy, housing and transport board Cllr Tett is also chair of South East Strategic Leaders, a partnership representing counties and unitary authorities, and England’s Economic Heartland, a partnership between councils and local enterprise partnerships from Oxfordshire through Milton Keynes to Cambridgeshire.
He told LGC he would not stand for the group leadership role this time due to these commitments, but did not rule out standing for the position in the future.
He said: “It is not that I don’t have an interest in doing [the group leadership role], I am just rushed off my feet doing everything I am doing on the LGA executive and in the county.”
Cllr Tett said he was not aware of any further confirmed candidates for the group leadership, adding that due to the recent county elections and the general election, people were “hunkered down in their areas” with little “national networking” taking place.
Four Tory-led counties – Essex, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, and Surrey CCs – have served notice to end their LGA membership next March. The four counties have argued the LGA has given insufficient weight to counties’ funding concerns, in particular for social care, and are calling on the association to reform to better reflect their viewpoint.
Cllr Carter has said as Conservative group leader he would push for change at the LGA, claiming the organisation’s focus on always finding consensus had led to “fudge” on the “bigger issues”. Cllr Simmonds has acknowledged that different types of councils feel their voice had not been heard, but said the LGA “voice is strongest when we are united.”
Cllr Tett said while the LGA performed a “really useful function”, he said there needs to be a shift of emphasis within the organisation as there is “a tendency for big cities to have more clout” due to their high public profile.
He said: “The voice of the non-metropolitan areas needs to be heard more loudly and carry more influence within the LGA.
“County areas have not been loud enough in putting forward the case for adequate funding and in terms of devolution, which in government has been weighted to towards metropolitan areas.”
Cllr Tett welcomed the Tory manifesto’s pledge to remove the condition for “rural counties” to adopt an elected mayor to secure devolution deals, but said the LGA should be “arguing hard” for fairing funding for rural areas for services such as education and social care.