Like most of you I came into politics to make a difference. I want the best for my family, my town and my party and know that the prospects for all of them are closely inter-related. Oldham, like many of our northern towns, has a great history but an uncertain future. Since my election as a councillor in 2003, as group leader in 2008 and as council leader since 2011, I have worked hard with my group and the wider community to give a sense of hope to our town. I am proud of what we have achieved but know we now have to deliver.
Since 2010 Labour local government has seen widespread and destructive cuts in our funding – more than any other part of the public sector. Despite this we have not indulged in gesture politics but have strived to protect our communities and ensure that vital public services continued to be delivered to those in need. Not only that we have seen a dynamic growth in the number of Labour controlled councils and councillors. We can all be proud of what we have achieved.
But we also know that we cannot carry on like this. Too many of our councils are at breaking point and we cannot carry on indefinitely making cuts and trying to balance growing demand for schools, social services and housing with reductions in staffing and available finance. I am not here to manage the decline in local government
Recent polls show that councils are more trusted than central government and that council leaders are more trusted than ministers by the public. We have to build on that public support and start to punch above our weight both within the LGA and within the Labour party.
And let’s be clear we have a fight on our hands. The next few months will be critical within the party and we need to ensure that the voice of Labour local government is heard strongly through the policy making process at the National Policy Forum and the National Executive Committee. We have to counter the support that still exists for central control of delivery of public services. Whitehall does not know best but they do know how to keep power and money to themselves and are supported by some of the most powerful lobbyists in the country. We need to make a strong case for the necessary powers, funding and respect for all Labour councils and to build alliances across the Labour movement. Clearly it will be difficult to change the current public spending settlements but we can expect more control and influence over all public spending in our localities and a mature discussion on prudential borrowing by councils.
We need to stop talking about councils going bust; councils are simply the conduit for the delivery of public services. We are talking about large parts of the country on the edge of public service collapse. Demand is increasing when the funds needed to deal with preventative measures is being taken from local government and paid almost pound for pound to other government departments such as Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health — effectively paying more for a more fractured public service.
I am proud of what previous Labour governments have achieved and the contribution that Labour councils and councillors have made to this success. It is also to our great credit that as Labour councillors we are able to contribute so significantly to campaign activity and funds at local, regional and national level.
However loyalty is not the same as uncritical support. As leader of the Labour group I will want to see more respect and recognition for Labour councillors and councils.
Local elections last month were again a great achievement for Labour groups especially in London and our large towns. But there is a warning in the level of support for the United Kingdom Independence party in too many of our communities which have supported Labour for generations. We need a local as much as a national response to this political development and I want the LGA Labour group to be at the heart of this response and to re-build a clear vision of what Labour represents.
Jim McMahon is Leader of Oldham council and has been recently elected as Leader Elect of the LGA Labour Group
Jim McMahon is standing to be an NEC Member. For more information please click here.
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