More than half of the new MPs elected in December were councillors, and Parliament needs their expertise
Many of us involved with the LGA will have spent years working with MPs and lobbying Parliament on local government issues.
Becoming an MP has been like joining an old-fashioned council, heavy on ceremony and tradition and with sometimes baffling processes for getting things done. Many of my new colleagues have local government experience, and we all share that sense of focus on finding how to make progress on the issues that took us into politics.
In my case, I saw the opportunity to contribute by making my maiden speech on the amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill about child refugees, an emotive subject on which I have worked with the LGA and my home council, Hillingdon, for two decades.
The amendments would have compounded the pressures with which councils are already struggling, and added life-and-limb risk to the journey of refugees to our country. So I aimed to shine a light on the practical reality, as opposed to the sentiment, of how this works – and the contribution was well received.
Over the coming months, there will be new legislation important to councils, on issues including the children’s care system review, adult social care, planning, building safety, devolution, and finance.
It is incredibly useful to the sector to have many new MPs who really understand the detail behind these issues – and with a government laying the foundations for an ambitious, long period in office, we have the chance to shape policy in a way that will lead to real, positive change.
So many councillors have expressed frustration that announcements on, for example, finance turn out to be window-dressing. The experience of a positively spun finance settlement that left us a significant net loser in Hillingdon was one example, and the Prime Minister was surprised to find that his own patch was seeing a cut, despite the headlines.
Parliament needs to use Brexit as a catalyst to unleash the potential of local authorities as leaders of their place, and there will be plenty of us making the case for that leadership as part of an ambitious, progressive, and forward-looking country.
The Queen’s Speech
The LGA briefed MPs ahead of several days of debates on the Queen’s Speech, highlighting local government priorities in the legislative year ahead.
During a debate on education and local government, Andrew Gwynne MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, highlighted our analysis of the pressures on children’s services.
Mr Gwynne also referred to comments on the provisional local government finance settlement made by Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Resources Board.
Closing the debate, Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick MP promised to level up funding across the country and make Whitehall work for local communities.
In another Queen’s Speech debate, on the green industrial revolution, several MPs spoke about the work councils are doing locally to tackle climate change, including Conservative MP Gillian Keegan, who highlighted that her local council is developing solar panels.
Responding to the debate, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps MP said that the new Environment Bill will introduce a system of legally binding, long-term targets for councils.
Labour MP Helen Hayes highlighted our analysis on the shortfall in funding for social care. In that debate, MPs from all parties expressed a willingness to begin cross-party talks to find a sustainable future for adult social care.
Concluding the debate, Health Minister Edward Argar MP highlighted the Government’s cash boost to the NHS and said ministers were working to address the ‘injustices’ in social care.