I was sorry to see housing minister Simon Clarke step down from his ministerial role last week. He understands politics is about people. He is an advocate of local government and worked positively with districts to stand up for communities during the height of the pandemic and as we plot the local recovery.
On behalf of all districts I want to thank him, and to express our enthusiasm for taking forward this agenda with Luke Hall. Together, we helped ensure everyone had a roof over the heads during the height of the crisis. He backed us to deliver, and our continued partnership will be crucial in the months ahead.
We’re not sure what this means for devolution. Across the summer we have kept our powder dry as the aggressive arguments for county unitary councils everywhere are pushed out. But it’s a bogus argument that needs challenging.
English local government is already the largest in the western world, our voters already the least well represented. As we transition out of the European Union we must move more decisions over the services that matter to people closer to people, and we must put the tools to fire up our economic engines in the hands of the businesses in our towns and cities. That must be the focus.
The pandemic has proved again that bigger Government is not always better. Everyone in local government has played their part in demonstrating that agility in delivery is the hallmark of successful public services. And districts played an enormous role, delivered the most business grants the most quickly, filled fridges and emptied bins, housed rough sleepers, kept the planning system moving, and so much more to 20 million people across 68% of the country.
Looking ahead, devolution must back our success in delivery. We have to celebrate the differences across our towns and cities, connecting and firing up engines of growth that have so far missed out from devolution; reworking how the national state works in our local communities. And we have to celebrate our historical county boundaries too, but not get tripped up by them.
Let’s stay focused on recovery, on putting local decisions with local people.
Cllr John Fuller OBE is chairman of the District Councils’ Network