This morning, Acting Leader Ed Davey addressed the Local Government Association’s online conference. He spoke about the crucial role of local government – not just in keeping our communities safe during this coronavirus pandemic, but also in building a fairer, greener, more prosperous country as we emerge from this crisis.
Here are the highlights from his speech…
On the work of local authorities during the pandemic:
Local authorities are the key institutions that enable our communities to come together and deliver the vital services people need.
Even as coronavirus has caused unbearable heartbreak and hardship, it has been truly uplifting to see the great work councils right across the country are doing to support local people…
This pandemic has highlighted something the Liberal Democrats have always understood: local authorities are the key institutions that enable our communities to come together and deliver the vital services people need. That’s true in “normal” times, and it’s even more important in a crisis like this.
Yet, sadly, this Conservative Government still doesn’t seem to get it. The truth is, local leaders should have been part of the Government’s decision-making since the very beginning of this crisis – as the Liberal Democrats have been calling for all along.
It’s just so damaging – especially in a crisis like this – to have a Government that thinks of local authorities as at best an irrelevance and at worst an impediment.
£45 billion for councils to spearhead a green recovery:
With these powers and funding, councils would all be able to take a real lead in the fight against climate change.
The recovery must not undermine the fight against climate change: it must strengthen it.
If we truly integrate economic policy with climate policy, we could make the rapid progress we need for our planet. And we could rebuild our economy and get people back to work.
But it requires nothing less than a Green Revolution.
That’s why I have called on the Government to invest £150 billion – 150, not the paltry 5 billion Johnson promised last week – over the next three years on a Green Recovery Plan. On insulating homes. On green transport. On renewable energy. On restoring lost biodiversity.
Much of this would best be delivered by local government.
That’s why today I’m calling on the Government to provide £45 billion of green recovery investment over the next three years directly to local authorities, to fund: home insulation programmes; new bus and cycle routes; light rail and tram lines; tree planting and nature restoration; community energy projects; electric vehicle charging infrastructure; and other projects to cut emissions and create green jobs in your community.
And the Government must match that funding with the extra powers local authorities need.
With the new powers I’m proposing and £45 billion of new green funding, councils would all be able to take a real lead in the fight against climate change.
A Devolution Revolution to drive the Green Revolution.
On the pressures local authorities are facing – especially social care:
The Government must work with all parties – and with local government – to build a sustainable future for social care services across the country.
On a whole range of issues, this Government expects more and more from local authorities while giving them less and less. Handing councils responsibility for some of the toughest challenges, without also handing over the power or funding they need to tackle them.
Nowhere – nowhere – is this attitude more evident than in social care. Caring for the elderly, the disabled and the vulnerable is a fundamental duty of government. It speaks directly to who we are as a country and the caring society we want to build.
I know the frustration so many councillors have – that they can’t provide the level of care they know is needed because of how drastically the Government is underfunding social care.
The immediate gap in social care funding must be plugged, now. And Government must work with all parties – and with local government – to build a sustainable future for social care services across the country.
Our fight to empower local authorities:
Fixing the crisis in social care. Tackling the climate emergency. Addressing deep-seated inequalities in our society. Rebuilding our economy after the coronavirus pandemic. These are enormous challenges. They will take ambition, determination and innovation.
They cannot be solved by a new announcement from the Government, a new piece of legislation in Parliament, or a new set of guidelines from Whitehall – important though they might be.
They can only be solved if local authorities are empowered – through devolution of funding and devolution of control – to make the decisions and implement the changes that our communities need.
That’s something the Liberal Democrats have been fighting for throughout our history. It’s part of our DNA. And we will not give up that fight.