I can't say that Eric Pickle has ever been my favourite politician, nevertheless when he turned up at the LGA conference in Bournemouth yesterday I was prepared to be impressed. I thought we'd get a battling wise-cracking performance. We did not. It was lacklustre, disjointed and in places incoherent. Quite a few Tories I spoke to afterwards were surprised at how poor the delivery was and frankly annoyed at the wasted opportunity. He looked shattered. He delivered his lines poorly and his jokes fell flat. A delta minus performance.
Enough about his poor delivery, what about the content. Well that was mixed. He clearly intended to get a big headline by attacking Chief Execs of local Authorities claiming that they were superfluous and that if you had a Leader/Elected Mayor you didn't need a CEO that it was a non job. Thanks Eric, you know if he is going to enter government he is going have to drop the knee jerk populism and get a grip. As the Municipal Journal said in its conference edition this was a self declared 'vulgar' attack.It's a bit like his wheelie bin collection obsession. This was not a bit of journalistic naughtiness. I understand that the 'non job' jibe was the centre piece of the press release his department put out that morning and was also a key part of the interview that he gave to the editor of the Municipal Journal.. He certainly is not a man who looked to be coping well with office. Others have been energise by the challenge and buoyed up by the achievement of high office, On yesterdays performance he is not one of them. If he keeps this up the boss will have to be having a word with him.I would say that his Junior ministers do appear to have stepped up -without exception they look comfortable in their new jobs. I will return to Andrew Stunnell -although I would say he is one Minister who appears to be universally regarded as highly competent. Of the other Junior Ministers Gregg Clarke, the Minister for De-centralisation, who has a cross departmental brief for decentralisation is clearly one to watch.
There were, of course, other sections of Pickles speech-which however poorly delivered-had substance. I think he really does get the localism agenda and he responded positively to the LGA big offer of Area Based budget. We awaited with baited breath to see whether that makes it into the Comprehensive Spending review. In essence the suggestion is that we should look at the total public sector spend in a geographical area from what ever government source it originates and then under the leadership of the local authority seek to 'delayer', cut out duplication and work more efficiently together to deliver locally agreed plans. This based on all the work on 'Total Place' that local authorities are involved in.
I was interested that sensible Labour leaders were backing this idea. They understood that such an approach would cut out the duplication that exists not just in the ' back office' but also on the front line. As such they report a fair amount of hostility from their comrades
Nobody will be surprised that I approve of the bonfire of targets and I am genuinely enthusiastic about have our accountability directed towards our electors through transparency and locally agreed plans. I await the Local Government Bill to see how far they fulfil their promise to handover power to local people and councils and stop the micro mamangement that has been inflicted on us for so long. My you I would happier if they didn't include a batty ideas about wheelie bins, 'non jobs' elect police chiefs and I hope they didn't spoil it all by instructing us to go along with these daft ideas, that would be very localist would it?