Eric Pickles – 2013 Speech to the National Conservative Convention

ericpickles

Below is the speech made by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, to the 2013 National Conservative Convention on 19th March 2013.

Conference chums,

Nearly three years on and we are still clearing up the mess left by Labour.

They certainly knew how to trash the economy.

Labour left us with the biggest budget deficit in our peacetime history.

They created a something for nothing culture.

They allowed the benefit bill to double.

Under Labour, more taxpayers’ money was spent on welfare than on defence, education and health combined.

Having trashed our economy, the ones responsible –

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls –

like grumpy adolescents are in denial, refusing to apologise for the mess and the misery they left behind.

We are taking bold action to turn Britain around.

It means that all the tough decisions were left for us to take.

Thanks to George Osborne’s action in reducing the deficit by a quarter so far, mortgage rates are at record lows – helping families with the cost of living.

Local government accounts for a quarter of all public spending.

Our Town Halls have done an excellent job in rising to that challenge.

Take Tory Trafford.

They’ve protected their libraries, whilst Labour in next-door Manchester is closing them.

Take Conservative Cotswold.

A district cutting council tax by five per cent and freezing service charges. Sharing a Chief Executive with West Oxfordshire.

Take Conservative Lancashire.

The county is cutting council tax by two per cent, funding 48 new Police and Community Support Officers, and cutting management and administration by £215 million.

By contrast, it’s Labour councils that have used frontline services and the poor as battering rams against the government.

Take Labour-run Newcastle.

They announced they wanted to abolish every single penny of arts funding.

They were soon rumbled for playing cheap political games.

This is a council which wanted to abolish the arts, but spend a quarter of a million pounds a year on bankrolling a militia of trade union officials in their town hall.

Labour councils charge high taxes.

They fail to deliver value for money.

And they pour taxpayers’ cash down the drain on bad spending.

Come May, our message is clear:

Don’t let Labour do your council what they’ve done to our country.

Now, if you listen to Labour, you’d think that making savings in local councils meant the end of the world.

Actually, councils are still spending 114 billion pounds a year.

Like a doom-monger consulting his Mayan calendar, their Shadow Fire Minister has predicted deaths, arson and chaos.

And in reality, you know what?

Latest figures show fire deaths are down 19%.

Fire incidents are down 37%.

And arson is down 46%.

Why?

For starters, we are tackling the causes of fires through prevention, like our award-winning Fire Kills education campaign.

We are telling people simply to check their smoke alarm when they turn forward their clocks next week.

A practical way to save lives.

And fire authorities can save more money from public service reform, through more joint working, better procurement, ending old fashioned practices and doing more for less.

The Labour leader of Birmingham City Council has predicted “the end of local government as we know it”

Well, after three years of savings in town halls across the country, you know what?

Research by Ipsos MORI found that two-thirds of residents have not noticed any changes to the quality of council services.

And according to the Local Government Association’s own polling, residents’ satisfaction with their council tax has increased.

Three of out of four residents are happy with their council.

The LGA found that people felt that councils had become more accountable and more responsive.

Councils are demonstrating better value for money, and focusing on the issues of greatest importance to local people.

Save more and get a better council.

Despite the fact that Alistair Darling was planning £52 billion of cuts, Labour have opposed every single saving that my department is making.

All they offer is weak leadership and failed old ideas.

Whitehall could learn a lot from local government.

There’s still far too much waste and inefficiency.

As Ronald Reagan declared:

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

I hope my department has been a beacon to others on how we can protect the taxpayer pound.

My department is making a 41 per cent cut in real terms on its running costs.

That’s net savings of over half a billion pounds from administration alone.

Cutting spending may be a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to work better.

In Whitehall, my department is actively supporting small and medium firms.

We have trebled the amount of contracts they receive, so they now receive a quarter of all our procurement spending.

We have opened a “Pop Up Shop” on the ground floor of my department.

We have sub-let our vacated space to Oftwat, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, even High Speed 2.

We’re not fussy, we’ll take their money.

The Pop Up Shop is just the start.

Given our location in Victoria, our whole ground floor has great potential for retail – maybe a Pound-stretcher?

Now, our building has a secret.

A secret hidden by civil servants for years, in a way that would make MI5 proud.

Within our basement,

Hidden from public view,

Next door to the emergency bunker,

Just below the Harriet Harman Tranquillity Suite,

Lies… A secret pub.

Officially called the DETR Darts Bar.

Known to others as… The Prezza Arms.

Backed up by secret subsidies, it charges just £1.90 for a small bottle of Chardonnay.

That’s what I call minimum pricing.

Now we’re the department in charge of supporting community pubs.

But there are eight licensed premises within 30 seconds of our front door, so why do we need a government pub?

The bar has fond memories of Prezza.

Mrs Pickles rest assured – I’ve not been frequenting it with civil servants.

But sorry John. It’s a dinosaur. It’ a reminder of another age.

So I’ve called time.

The Prezza Arms has served its last Tia Maria.

The public don’t want to see politicians guzzle cheap drink at their expense.

The House of Commons and its Labour MPs should take note.

The nationalised pub is a symptom of how the state over-reached itself under Labour.

Well, along with our secret pub going, we’ve cut quangos like the Government Offices for the Regions, the Regional Assemblies and the Regional Development Agencies.

Labour’s whole tier of regional government has been abolished.

The Government Office for London has literally been razed to the ground.

Is our great city of London now rudderless?

No. We have local leadership from local councils and from Boris, London’s local mayor.

I am not asking councils to do anything that we haven’t done ourselves

According to the Institute for Government, my department has cut the most from its own Whitehall budget.

Staff levels are down a third, but when we restructured, we did it quickly and we started at the top.

We’ve kept our word:

communities have new rights,

councils have new powers.

residents the power to stop council tax hikes.

We have reversed the trend of decline.

From this April; councils will raise 70 per cent of their income locally, and decide how to spend it locally.

Councils which back local enterprise build more homes and support hard work will go far and be quids in.

We are ending the begging bowl mentality, when councils fell over themselves to appear the most deprived, to go cap in hand to the man in Whitehall.

Yet Labour councils are failing to seize the new opportunities that localism offers.

The Mayor of Liverpool says “he fears the worst” and predicts riots.

That’s not a confident message about why firms should invest in Liverpool.

He’s running his council down and letting his residents down.

To help councils, I’ve published best practice advice on how councils can reduce spending: 50 ways to save.

Across the country, there is £2.4 billion of uncollected council tax.

And you know the council with the worst record in the country?

Liverpool.

With £114 million of arrears – equivalent to £500 per home.

They should take time out from scaremongering and get their own house in order.

Councils are losing £2 billion a year on fraud.

Procurement fraud alone costs almost £1 billion.

Practical steps to stop being the victim will cut the cost of being in business.

Did you know that reserves which have been increasing in recent years whilst Labour councils plead poverty?

Councils should use their £16 billion of reserves creatively to invest to save.

All government could save billions from combining services to remove duplication and overlap.

If every council followed the sharing of back office services being championed by the Conservative Tri-Borough initiative in London, they could save £2 billion a year.

These are big sums.

But there are smaller savings which councils can make. Every penny adds up.

Councils should scrap the trade union pilgrims who leech of the public sector.

I’ve no problems with trade unions – but the taxpayer shouldn’t have to foot their bill.

This subsidy of Trade Unions is called “facility time”.

In my department, I can announce we are going to lead the way in Whitehall by facilitating it down to private sector levels.

And we are going to abolish Check-off.

No – not the Russian playwright whose plays are so gloomy that it’s like an evening with Vince Cable.

I mean the bizarre Whitehall practice of the government departments collecting the union subscriptions on behalf of the unions’ barons for free.

Well, the unions can now set up a direct debit like everyone else.

Left-wing councils should scrap their council newspapers like Greenwich Time or Tower Hamlet’s East End Life.

We don’t need municipal horoscopes, town hall TV listings or a weekly edition of Pravda-style propaganda from town hall rags.

Nor do we need the likes of Labour councils paying lobbyists to lobby government. What a waste.

And on lobbyists, let me say this.

The practice of councillors taking money to lobby their own council is wrong.

There will be zero tolerance of corruption on my watch.

A blind eye was turned to back-handers to the police for too long under Labour.

Well, councillors who take brown paper envelopes should expect to go to jail.

And those who offer such brown paper envelopes should expect to join them.

Her Majesty’s Prison Service welcomes crooked politicians with open arms.

Conference,

Conservatives are on the side people who work hard and want to get on.

And that includes people who have come to our country with ambition and drive.

From Beijing to Mumbai, parents with ambition insist their children learn English. We British should be the same.

I’m proud to live in a country that Christians, and Jews, and Muslims, and Hindus, and Sikhs, and people of no faith, join together to celebrate their Britishness:

– respect for the law

– respect for free speech

– respect for democracy

And have the united desire to do better.

But that can’t happen if we don’t nourish the one thing that unites us all – the English language.

Without a common language community cohesion is undermined, creating economic and social isolation, fuelling, rumours lies and extremists.

Councils that translate documents into multiple foreign languages are doing no one any favours.

So I issued guidance last week to town halls reminding them that there is no requirement to translate literature or signs into foreign languages.

As well as our culture, a big part of what defines our communities is local high streets, shopping parades and local corner shops too.

So we have doubled small business rate relief and cut corporation tax.

But there’s one area where we need to do far more for local shops.

Parking.

13 years of Labour’s war on the motorist have created an over-zealous culture of parking enforcement.

Extending CCTV, not to catch criminals, but to catch you out the moment you park on a yellow line.

A rigid state orthodoxy of persecuting motorists out of their cars, with no concern about its effect in killing off small shops.

Officious parking wardens move in faster than a Liberal Democrat on the M11.

This needs to change.

Councils should allow more off-street parking spaces, to take pressure off the roads.

They should end dodgy town hall contracts which reward and encourage the proliferation of fixed penalty notices.

I believe we need to give people the good grace to pop into a local corner shop for 10 minutes, to buy a newspaper or a loaf of bread without risking a £70 fine.

This is of course heresy to the left.

Rather than cutting red tape, their answer to every problem is higher taxes.

Rather than making it easier to park, Labour councils want to hike taxes on supermarkets, pushing up the cost of living.

And Labour are eyeing up your home too.

On top of stamp duty, income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax and council tax, Labour want a new house tax.

Does anyone believe a politician who says the tax will only be for the bigger, more expensive homes?

Their new homes tax would let Ed Miliband send government snoopers into your house and tax your patio, conservatory and home improvement.

Little Brother even wants to tax your children’s tree house.

Rather than climbing new heights to tax people, we should be cutting taxes.

And we’ve done that with council tax.

Under Labour, council tax more than doubled.

But over the last three years, thanks to our council tax freeze, we will have cut council tax by almost 10 per cent in real terms.

Now, no-one likes paying council tax, but we’re making it easier to pay.

Residents now have a new legal right to pay over 12 months if you wish.

It’s a practical way to help families and pensioners with their cash flow.

It will bring down families and pensioners’ monthly outgoings by around £24 for most of the year.

And this on top of our council tax freeze which is saving families over £200 a year.

Conference,

We may be in Coalition with our yellow chums, but we are delivering Conservative policies and Conservative principles.

A smaller state and one that is more accountable to local taxpayers.

A freer state, standing up for the little guy in the face of state bureaucracy.

And a lower tax state, helping families with the cost of living and putting more money back to your pocket.

Labour offers no solution other than more spending, more borrowing and more debt.

Only Conservatives, with David Cameron’s strong leadership, are dealing with the big challenges that our country faces.

Clearing up the mess left by Labour, and turning our country around for the better.