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By Mithran Samuel ...
By Mithran Samuel

The Local Government Association's first Conservative chair has vowed to make councils an equal partner with government in public service delivery.

Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, who will take over from Sir Jeremy Beecham at next month's LGA conference, said he wanted to change Whitehall's perception of councils as junior partners to government.

Sir Sandy's elevation from vice-chair is a result of the Conservatives becoming the association's largest party after last week's local elections.

While he was warm in his praise of his predecessor's seven years at the helm, Sir Sandy said: 'There are areas where we need greater clarity between government and local government about some of the tensions [between us].

'I am a huge advocate of local government and I think that sometimes local government undersells itself.'

But he played down suggestions a Conservative leader of the LGA facing a

Labour government was a recipe for conflict: 'I don't see that it's particularly different for someone who's a Conservative as opposed to Labour. I look forward to a constructive but honest relationship with the government.'

His ability to put a party political stamp on his leadership will be limited.

The Tories' lead over Labour in the LGA is just 0.9% - 35.8% to 34.9% - and senior positions on the association are likely to be carved up evenly between the two parties.

Sir Jeremy said: 'I don't think the sea is going to go bright blue. They can't do it - it would be resisted by a majority of the association.'

Chief executive Sir Brian Briscoe said: 'There will be a change of style - how much remains to be seen. Sandy's not an unknown quantity. It will not be a seismic shift.'

Executive chairs - change delayed

The new political balance of the LGA will come into force in August with an overhaul of member structures.

The LGA's executives and committees will retain their leadership and membership until then, when they will be scrapped in favour of six policy boards (LGC, 7 May).

The reform has the backing of the LGA executive, and is expected to win the support of the general assembly at its meeting next month. It will reduce the number of members involved in the LGA's permanent structures. However, many more councillors are expected to participate in time-limited task forces.

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