Re-Thinking Local: A Vision For The Future - Sir Keir Starmer MP | 1 July 2020

This webinar is an opportunity to hear from Sir Keir Starmer MP, Leader of the Labour Party and Cllr Nick Forbes CBE, Leader, LGA Labour Group and Senior Vice-Chair, LGA.

Speaking at the Local Government Association annual conference, Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, said:

Thank you for inviting me to speak today.

It seems a long time since I was with you at last year’s LGA conference in Bournemouth

In fact... looking at you across this screen... it almost feels like another world.

I had hoped that this would be a chance for us to meet in person

It would have been the first major conference of my leadership…

  • A chance to thank our fantastic local government leaders…
  • To hear about the challenges you’re facing
  • To discuss our vision for the future of local government …and
  • To underline that under my leadership, local government will be at the heart how Labour rebuilds our country and our communities.

But, as with so much in the last few months, we’ve had to adapt

My first speech as Labour Leader was filmed in my living room

…and my first conference is by Zoom!

I want to thank everyone at the LGA for making it possible for us to meet today; albeit virtually!

And I also want to say a much wider thank you…

  • To the councillors, the cabinet members and the leaders…
  • To the officials, the officers and the staff…
  • To the more than one million people working in local government the length and the breadth of the country.

Even in “normal times” you deliver the services we all depend on.

The ones that, frankly, are too often taken for granted.

But during this crisis, you have been at the frontline

Whether in our care homes and delivering social care

Obtaining protective equipment...

Preventing homelessness...

Emptying our bins...

Keeping our streets safe and

Delivering food and basic supplies to those in need

You have been among the unsung heroes of this crisis.

We all know who the key workers are now.

And so I want to thank you all.


Of course, everything has to be seen through the prism of coronavirus.

This is the greatest crisis our country has faced in most of our life times...

Our economy has been shut down, leaving businesses and workers alike facing huge uncertainty...

Loved ones went months without seeing one another.

For some this meant agonising decisions, missing births and even funerals…

And – tragically - many of us have friends, family, constituents and neighbours who were taken too soon by this awful disease.

The UK has suffered more than most countries.

65,000 have died because of COVID 19.

Our economy projected to decline by more than any OECD country this year

And millions of people are living in insecurity about their jobs and their incomes.

But during this crisis, we have also seen incredible and inspiring moments.

  • Captain Tom Moore, who captured the nation’s imagination in raising £32 million for NHS charities.
  • The dedication and bravery of those tackling this disease on the frontline.
  • The quiet selflessness of those who came together to form community groups or check in on elderly and vulnerable neighbours.

No one is pretending we are out of the darkness yet.

But they have been the glimmers of light that have got us through.

And when we come out of this crisis, but will be because of them.


We’re now in a new phase of the pandemic.

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, people are returning to work, to high streets and to public places in towns and cities across the country…

We welcome that.

It may seem strange for the Leader of the Opposition to say this, but we want the Government to get this right

People’s lives and livelihoods depend in it

And the onus is now on government to deliver

To provide the systems

The reassurance

And the clear public messaging that will allow this to happen safely.

From the earliest days of my leadership, I’ve said the Government need to plan for an exit strategy.

A coherent plan to bring the country together

My fear now is that we have an exit, but without a strategy…

The Prime Minister can do rhetoric – He started this pandemic saying Britain was

“ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion”

But he can’t govern.

And his failure to plan….

To act quickly….and decisively…..

To take the right decisions at the right time

Has held Britain back

Whether on protective equipment

Care homes

Or testing

As a result: those at the frontline have too often lacked the power and resources they need.

Nowhere is this truer than in local government.

After a decade of cuts

The coronavirus crisis and the government’s inaction have created a perfect storm

Councils are faced with

Much higher costs for key services such as social care

And much lower revenues through falls in areas such as business rates

As a result, you’ve estimated that councils now face a blackhole of around £10bn.

And a report last week showed 8 in 10 face councils cutting services or section 144 notices and effective bankruptcy

This isn’t party political – Conservative councils and Labour councils face the same problems

And as you know better than anyone, this would have real effects on the services we all rely on.

It could mean further cuts to social care

Fewer police officers.

It could mean streetlights going on later and going off earlier

It could mean libraries, gyms and community centres staying closed: the places that give meaning and character to our communities

I’ve raised this with the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Questions for the last two weeks

But – as you might have seen – I haven’t had many answers

Or at least coherent ones.

In fact, I’m not sure the Prime Minister has understood the scale of the problem local councils are facing.

Or the immediacy

I’m also not sure he understands how central local authorities will be in the next phase of this crisis

And in preventing a second spike.

That’s why I called last week at PMQs for councils to given much clearer guidance

And new powers to enforce local lockdowns if needed.

Again, rather than take this seriously and put a plan in proper plan in place

...the PM ignored it.

 And when the MP for Hove - Peter Kyle – warned that seaside towns and councils could be unable to cope with people rushing to beaches or parks in the summer…

The PM said he should simply “show some guts and determination”

Two days later, 500,000 people crowded onto Bournemouth beach.

And the local council had no choice but to declare a major incident.


As we begin to emerge from this stage of the crisis

We need much stronger and more focused leadership And we need to build a new relationship between national and local government

To end the over-centralisation of power and resources in Westminster

To push it much closer to local communities

Part of that is empowering local government

Councillors are at the frontline of this crisis

They are often the first to see where national government is going wrong,

Yet too often they are ignored

And too often central government is too slow to respond.

We need to change that

Under my leadership, we are already giving local government a bigger part in Labour politics

  • We have brilliant former local government leaders like Jim McMahon and Steve Reed in the Shadow Cabinet … 
  • Nick Forbes joins my weekly shadow cabinet meetings to ensure the voice of local government is in the room whenever decisions are being made …
  • …And we’ve ensured that every member of the Shadow Cabinet has been partnered with a local government leader.
  • And while we’re been out of power for far too long nationally, in towns and cities across the UK Labour is changing people’s lives through our mayors and councillors.

But my commitment to local government doesn’t just exist in opposition.

 A Labour government would win power in order to hand it back to the nations, regions, cities and towns across our country.

  • We would give local government a much bigger say over investment and services …

 Not through plans devised by someone in an office on Whitehall, but ones created and rooted in communities, so that they truly serve the people.

  • We would put local government, its power and its innovation, straight at the heart of Westminster by replacing the House of Lords with a democratic second chamber representing the nations and regions of the UK.
  • And we would give councillors, communities and people on the front line in our public services a bigger say over the decisions that affect them.

Because at the heart of the broken trust in national politics and politicians is a feeling that we aren’t listening.

That we don’t care.

That we don’t understand.

Listen to Boris Johnson at Prime Ministers’ Question each week, and you can understand why!

But working with you, we want to prove this wrong …

And truly empower local communities.

  • So, where services people use in their daily lives are no longer a source of convenience but frustration - let’s make them truly accountable to the people they serve.
  • And where politics feels distant or remote or like something that is ‘done to’ people rather than ‘with them’ and ‘for them’ - let’s break down those barriers make sure people have the power to make their voices heard.
  • And where government in Westminster imposes decisions and cuts that trample on innovation, put business out of action or damage people’s lives and livelihoods without fully understanding the consequences – let’s offer a vision of a fairer Britain that will be better for everyone.


One of the most inspiring parts of the first few months as Labour leader has been the chance to speak to people from across the country in the ‘Call Keir’ sessions I have been running.

Even though we have had to do them virtually, they have been a chance to have frank, honest, even difficult conversations with people who felt they couldn’t vote Labour in December.

Speaking to local government leaders across the country has been a similar experience: inspiring, albeit sometimes bruising.

I’ve heard about so many fantastic, innovative ideas and been left bewildered and – frankly - ashamed at how far behind national government is.

In Plymouth, for example, the council has set up dozens of community-owned energy co-ops that generate energy sustainably and plough the profits back into projects.

In Preston, we have used the financial muscle of council contracts to ensure investment and jobs go where local people need them most.

And in Barking and Dagenham, we have launched a project that opens up empty shops for use by dozens of community groups.

Now I know what you might be thinking – here’s a Labour leader praising Labour councils. What a surprise.

But I also know that non-Labour councils are doing inspiring and brilliant work.

And we have much to learn from you as well.

Because the reality is that in this instance it’s not about the colour of the council. It is about local government’s focus on getting things done.

That should be a lesson to us.

And I want us to learn those lessons.

So, thank you for allowing me to be with you today.

And let’s make this the start of something.

Something that makes Britain a better governed place, inspired by the lessons learned on the frontline: lessons that come from people, practitioners and the public.

Let’s set out a vision for the future that puts them at its heart.

I promise for my part that the Labour Party’s doors will always be open to you.

We will always work in good faith. We will always be a friend and an ally to local government.