Cllr Nick Forbes, speech to local government conference 2017
Welcome and thanks
Welcome to Labour Local Government Conference 2017 – thank you Coventry for being our Host City.
Huge welcome to you all here today. Every councillor in this room is flying the flag for our party and keeping the fight for social justice going strong.
Special welcome to the 41 newly elected councillors who are attending for the first time as our guests. Hope you enjoy making new friends and sharing ideas with others from our local government family.
It's a privilege to work with a talented team of people in local government. Thank you to the Chair of the ALC, Simon Henig; to my sister in arms Alice Perry on the NEC, to our Group Officers, those who serve on LGA Boards, to the fantastic staff team of Morgan, Uma, Martin and Anthie, and of course to my deputies Sir Steve Bullock and Sharon Taylor, who I am delighted was awarded Leader of the Year.
Thank you to Jeremy, and Teresa (Pearce, not May!) and her Shadow CLG team for the support they give me and our Leadership team.
And above all thank you to all 6877 Labour Councillors. It is my privilege to represent the hardest working group of people in politics.
We gather here today as a party committed to our cause but very mindful of the challenges we face. Tory austerity – which continues despite the changes at the top of the Government – continues to assault our public services. But we are not in the business of managing decline; we are determined to make a difference by putting our values into action.
Successes and challenges
While it may have been a challenging year for the Labour Party, it's been a good year for Labour Local Government.
We steered through significant rule changes at Party Conference that commit our party to supporting councillors better, increasing the diversity of our candidates and – crucially – dealing with the nonsense arguments of those who call for illegal budgets.
But challenges ahead. Councillors face unprecedented situation – dealing with cuts no-one has ever dealt with before. Important that we stick together as a family, and support each other when we need a helping hand. ALC discussion about Mental Health and what more we can do to make sure our colleagues get the right help.
These successes in the party have been matched by steps forward on important national policy areas.
Pay to stay
We forced Govt to abandon their attack on council tenants through their cruel and unnecessary ‘Pay to Stay' plans. While that battle is far from over, it is Labour authorities who are building council houses and affordable houses for people to rent and buy. SILENT ON RIGHT TO BUY FOR SOCIAL RENTED SECTOR AND FORCED SALE OF COUNCIL ASSETS
We joined forces to put pressure on the Government about plans to force all schools to become academies. We know our children are not commodities, that our schools are not for sale. But we face new threats from the rise of Grammar schools, and the prospect of selective education dividing children and limiting life chances.
For the first time since I've been involved in politics, people beyond local government have recognised the Adult Social Care crisis. Five years ago Labour councils were a lone voice in the wilderness, raising concerns about the impact of austerity on adult and children's social care. Now it's every authority in the country – and the NHS, the Kings Fund, ADASS, CQC and many more. Even my friend David (who sometimes gets his Nick's in a twist) agrees there's a problem, and fortunately the Government has agreed to fix it for him. But the Government must solve the crisis for the whole of the country, not just for Surrey.
Calais jungle and unaccompanied children
Elsewhere we added to the pressure to close down the Calais Jungle, and went out of our way to offer places for unaccompanied children. We knew that it was right to offer these kids, orphaned by war and all alone, the chance of a better life in Britain. Our Government's response? To slam the door in their faces, to say that we're full.
We Will Not Turn our Backs. Yesterday 50 Labour council leaders agreed a statement calling on the Government to reverse it's disgraceful decision to terminate the Dubbs amendment. We stand ready to do our bit, because it's the right thing to do.
This year we face crucial council and mayoral elections in every part of the country.
It is essential that we move forward in these elections, that we increase Labour representation in all areas.
To do otherwise, to retreat into a comfortable core in just our major towns and cities, would be to turn our backs on our communities when they need us the most.
That's why I'm concerned that Alice and I had to take specific requests for funding to the NEC for these vital elections. Yes, we won extra money to support campaigning – but we shouldn't have to beg. Labour Local Government is one of the biggest funders of the party. We are the backbone of our party, organising and delivering leaflets and knocking on doors all year round. We keep many of our CLPs going, we represent our party's experience of governing after almost a decade out of power nationally. We deserve better from our party, and we demand better representation and a stronger voice at the heart of our movement.
Brexit and Devo
It is important we are strong as a force because we know there are more and bigger threats still ahead.
BREXIT opened an uncomfortable window on our country's soul.
It revealed distain for the political establishment, and many decades worth of grievances on many issues crystallised into the vote to Leave.
We can't re-run the referendum. Nor should we assume that Leave voters will switch their allegiance from Labour.
But we can – and must – reject the Tory notion of a hard Brexit and a bargain basement Britain. We must make the argument for a different type of Britain.
We've seen the increase in hate crimes in our communities.
We've seen EU residents quaking with fear at the prospect of leaving after years of living and working here.
We've listened to our businesses raising concerns about the impact of leaving the Single Market.
People voted to Take Back Control – but that doesn't mean that power should be concentrated in Whitehall and Westminster.
We need a new constitutional settlement for the UK, and I'll be working with Gordon Brown, Kez Dugdale, Carwyn Jones and our frontbench over the coming year to bring forward fresh proposals.
We must, as a party, set out an alternative vision for the type of country we want Britain to be. Creating jobs and opportunities for all. Making the case for investment in public services. Protecting the vulnerable, challenging discrimination, bringing communities together and providing a refuge for those fleeing war zones and tyranny.
These are not new tasks. They're our bread and butter, what Labour councillors work to achieve every day. Our successes point the way to a better society, a better Britain, where people can see Labour values of inclusion, social justice, reward for hard work, equality and decency in action.
Our message is clear. We stand ready to shoulder our responsibilities to the world we live in.
We lead the way in devolution, making the case for more decisions to be taken locally as a way of reviving our democracy and giving people real control over the forces that shape their lives.
We lead in challenging this awful Government, their plans to run down our public services and their failure to stand up for fairness and decency.
We lead our communities in healing the wounds of Brexit, and in making the moral case for housing refugees and unaccompanied children.
And we lead Britain unequivocally towards a politics not of hate but of hope, not of isolation but of inclusion, not of barriers but of bridges.
We lead for Labour and our country. We know Labour in power is Labour at its best. Let's use this conference to show what Labour is for, and why people can have faith that a vote in Labour is a vote to make our country better.
20 February 2017