Andrew Gwynne MP, shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government: 2019 speech at the Labour Local Government Conference
Andrew Gwynne MP, shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Thank you for that welcome.
Firstly I don’t want to be go over the top but I do want to begin with a heartfelt thank you.
And I say this on behalf of my excellent local government team in Parliament. Jim McMahon, Yvonne Fovargue, Roberta Blackman-Woods, and my PPS Steven Morgan.
Because while Labour is leading the fight to oppose the worst of what the Tories are doing in Westminster and to set out an alternative, the best hope for millions of people across the country, without a General Election scheduled this year, is Labour in local Government.
To put it simply it’s you.
Our Labour councillors and councils campaigning to put Labour values into practice in their areas, despite deep funding cuts.
In my speech in the commons on Tuesday in the local government finance debate, I spoke of this brush we all get tarnished with. That politicians both local and national are all the same.
Well we’re not all the same.
Its Labour councillors who day in, day out, show how we can translate our values into action. Action that improves public services and better lives.
Whether it be building the homes we need.
Or looking after our most vulnerable.
Or providing and maintaining community services for young and old alike.
As the excellent 100 more innovations in local government shows, local Labour Councils are the driving forces behind finding innovative ways to help our local communities. And I want to thank you for showing the great innovation that Labour can deliver.
You are the last defenders of the most vulnerable in society. You are the people that those most in need turn to. You are the people that give up your evenings and weekends with little thanks.
Well not today. I want to make very clear on behalf of my parliamentary colleagues both in the CLG team and outside, the work you do, the tireless effort you put in, the hours you give up, don’t go unnoticed.
Because when we come to power it will local government that has to deliver many of Labour key manifesto commitments.
I’m fond of reminding my Shadow Cabinet colleagues that 44% of the commitments in the 2017 manifesto will fall either directly or indirectly on English local government to deliver.
And I know at times you have felt that you don’t have the ear of Labour in Westminster. I hope I’m changing that. Whether it be Labour’s local government policy or through my role as Campaign Co-ordinator ensuring that Labour council leaders have big say in our local and national election campaigns.
So I can announce today, that when Labour wins power we will create a Local Government Commission, made up of councillors from every region, every authority type and every major political party.
To fix our broken political system which leaves people feeling disconnected and disillusioned by Westminster politics, we need to put local people and communities at the heart of decision making.
For nine years, Ministers have sat in meetings in Whitehall and cut funding to councils hundreds of miles away, never having to see the library that is closed, the potholes that go unfixed and the elderly people that go without care as a result.
I’ll invite different Secretaries of State to each meeting and ensure that councillors can influence every decision that effects local councils. We’ll need your guidance, your support and your advice, in ensuring that from Whitehall to our town halls we are being as effective as possible in helping our hardworking communities.
Positions will be appointed in conjunction with different political group office at the LGA and I guarantee we’ll meet monthly. Gone will be the days when we have a Secretary of State for Local Government that doesn’t want to know Local Government.
Local people need to feel that Whitehall works for them and connecting councillors directly with Ministers is a good first step.
Talking of Government Ministers, it would be remise of me not to mention a couple of things up that I know are key topics of conversation whenever we come together like this.
Devolution and Local Government finance, the topic of today’s plenary.
I believe Labour is the party of local government and the party devolution. Behind us sits a proud history of delivering real devolution to local councils.
But what’s important is that devolution gives real power to people and their communities.
You’ve been clear about this and we’ll deliver it.
We recognise as I know you do, that for Britain to thrive every nation and region must grow and reach its full potential in developing an inclusive economy built on strong foundations. So we will rebalance our economy so it works for all.
But I also want to touch on the local government finance settlement and of course the growing funding crisis in local government.
I’m not going to state the obvious. Or to recite statistics you already know and are having to deal with on a daily basis. But I do want to contrast what’s happening under the Tories with what you can expect from a Labour Government in Westminster.
Local Government is at the heart of local communities. As I said you look after the most vulnerable in society and make local spaces greener, cleaner and safer. However over the last nine years we have seen unprecedented levels of cuts to our Local Councils.
The fact is between 2010 and 2020, councils will have lost 60p out of every £1 that the Government provides our communities for services.
Nine of the ten most deprived councils in the country have seen cuts of almost three times the national average.
This has left local services today face a funding gap of £3.2 billion.
And by 2025 the gap facing local Councils will rise to £7.8 billion.
But that won’t happen if Labour comes to power.
A Labour Government will stand up for local communities.
A Labour Government will support working people by investing in new affordable homes to rent and buy. But it’s not just the quantity of homes but the quality of them too. We need to ensure that all homes are fit for habitation and private renters have confidence that the market and the government is on their side.
A Labour Government will join up services from home to hospital with a properly integrated health and social care service. And we’ll deliver parity of esteem for mental health provision.
And it’s a Labour Government that will share power to local areas such as devolving powers and funding to local transport authorities, so that local communities can determine their own priorities.
And as I said at the beginning this point about devolution is a key one. We need to empower you, our councillors, to change your local communities for the better.
Because the approach or policies that work in Blackpool might not be the same as the ones that work in Bournemouth. And Labour recognises this.
And we also recognise that when we leave the European Union there has to be a presumption that the powers handed back, flow down to the local town halls and, without good reason, aren’t just kept in Whitehall.
The complaint is often made that powers were being made by nameless, faceless people in Brussels. Well we can’t just see them returned so they can be made by a difference set of nameless, faceless people in Whitehall who also aren’t accountable to local people.
You know we can all see it, the Tories are in mess. They’ve no clue and they’ve no plan. Whether it’s Brexit, Housing or Local Government finance, the Tories are out of step.
So on Tuesday Labour voted against the Government local government finance settlement to send a clear message to this Tory Government that they need to come back to the House of Commons with proposals that give councils the funding they need.
Because you can’t deliver the level of public services people need and require without proper funding. And that’s what a Labour Government will do. We’ll give you the funding and support you need and we’ll have your best interests at heart when we go into Government.
Finally, I do want to just end with the same point I started with.
I know it’s an extremely challenging time to be a councillor.
But I want to reiterate my sincerest thanks and my sincerest promise that your voice will be heard loud and clear at the heart of a Labour run Whitehall.
In the face of everything you are an inspiration to the Labour movement.
Whether it facing up to cuts
Or campaigning in the freezing cold and snow
Or giving up more of your time to help your local communities, than there are hours in the day…
Just know this.
Together we will win more council seats than we’ve ever done before.
Together we will win more councils than we have ever done before.
Together we change our local communities and our country for the better like ever has ever been before.
And together we can win the local elections on May 2nd and together we will build a Britain for the many not the few. And you are at the heart of why we can.