By Councillor Chris Vince
It was great to get an opportunity to hear from the new Leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, at the virtual Local Government Association conference today. It is a measure of our new leader that he gladly faced questions from local Councillors across the political spectrum (which included a Lib Dem and Conservative Councillor) as well as Council officers. He started by thanking local Councillors, council officers and community leaders for all their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Keir repeated his pledge to ensure that local government is at the heart of Westminster and that more and more control over planning issues would be returned to local councils. This resonates with me as my first experience of a planning decision in Harlow was one in which the development management committee were forced to approve a development, despite the fact there was cross party agreement that it was a bad idea, or have the council face a heavy fine. Keir emphasised the fact that it is local communities and local councils who have a better understanding of their local government than ministers in Westminster and that they should be making planning decisions.
One of the key issues facing local councils is a lack of funding. Over the past ten years local Councils have faced unprecedented cuts and Keir reiterated his desire to work with local Councillors and local communities to ensure that not only are our local councils funded properly but also that they get the right amount of support and guidance moving forward in these unprecedented times.
Keir also thanked local Councils from across the political spectrum for the work that they have done in reducing carbon emissions. Recognising the fact that it is local government that will be at the forefront of the fight against the climate emergency. Harlow Council reduced carbon emissions by 692 tonnes in the last year as well as planting over a thousand trees!
Very often local government is the poor relation to national government but it was with real optimism that I left the meeting with the view that the next Labour government, with Keir at the helm, will finally start to take the views of local government and local councillors seriously. That it will recognise the vitally important role they play in the well being of not only their communities but in the country is a whole.