Independent Group Conference - Group Leader's Comment - 30 November 2018

Our annual conference on Friday covered the issues most raised by our members and now in the LGA Business Plan.

Our annual conference on Friday covered the issues most raised by our members and now in the LGA Business Plan.

The day opened with Lord Porter, the LGA’s Chairman, and me outlining our key work of the year including some successes in funding for adult care, potholes, infrastructure, high street economies and scrapping the borrowing cap.

Our first plenary of the day, ably chaired by Councillor Gillian Ford, was on Care For All. The Earl of Listowel and Lord Adebowale CBE both superbly made the case for better support of adults and children, including our proper role as corporate parents.

The Government seems to have pinned everything about Brexit on to one person, but in local government, we immediately formed a cross-party task force to seek opportunities and mitigate risks for our councils and our residents. Members of the task force and of the European Committees (Cllrs Gillian Ford, Clarence Barrett, Andrew Cooper and myself) outlined what the LGA has been doing on behalf of councils in regards to the Brexit negotiations and took questions.

What Independents can achieve against the odds was outlined by Councillor Steven Heddle, from the Orkneys, another place with a long heritage of Independent local government. Steven explained how he achieved a special "Islands (Scotland) Bill" passed by Parliament, working with his neighbouring islands.

Our Speaker’s Corner at lunchtime was very full. Councillor Colin Mann chaired the session, with brilliant three minute member presentations, including one on the Group’s constitution review from Councillor Alan Seldon.

After lunch we started our afternoon session with a lively debate on the "Big Parties in Meltdown." It was chaired by editor of the Local Government Chronicle magazine Nick Golding, and supported by Tony Travers, Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics; Andrew Cooper of the Green Group and me. We talked about the opportunities opening up for our members as the hold by big party politics is shaken to breaking point.

Our afternoon was then spent in workshops, led by our members and policy experts from the LGA and member authorities.

The housing and planning workshop, with Councillor Chris Townsend and the LGA’s Nick Porter, looked at opportunities resulting from the lifting of the borrowing cap to recreate council house stock. Councillor Andrew Cooper worked with Sonika Sidhu from the LGA’s policy team on what councils can do for the environment, a directly useful session for members, while Councillor Clarence Barrett and the LGA’s Mike Heiser ran a workshop on the fair funding feview and business rate retention.

The powerful workshop on tackling crime with Daryl Edmunds and Councillor Hannah Dalton was very popular with members discussing community safety and public protection, while the new LGA pay and workforce strategy for councils was presented by Councillor Bob Jennings and Nigel Carruthers from the LGA’s workforce team, as a “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” quiz. The strategy has just been finalised and will be available later this year.

Our Deputy, Councillor Clive Woodbridge, fed back from the workshops and I had the pleasure of closing a very productive, inspiring day.

The evening reception was enlivened by two speakers, Dr Wanda Wyporska of The Equality Trust, and Emily Zinkin of the Fawcett Society. The Equality Trust circulated a petition that can easily be adopted by councils while Emily is an ambassador for 50:50, a campaign called "Ask her to stand ", working towards gender equality in Parliament.

This was another very inspiring day with cutting edge discussions and debate, helping shape consensus for the future direction of the LGA and its influence on national and European legislation. A huge thank you to Sarah, Aimee and Noleen for putting it together. Thank you to our speakers, attendees, our leading members and our Executive, the engine of the LGA Independent Group.

If you attended and are able to provide some feedback on the day please do so.

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The day after our conference I was honoured to chair a celebration of 100 years since the women's suffrage movement, held in Leeds. Leeds City Council, which includes 10 of our Group members, has enjoyed a host of celebratory events. The Women's Local Government Association partnered with the LGA's Be a Councillor campaign to use the inspiring stories of the past as a springboard to encourage new people to support or stand as a councillor. Volunteers investigated and identified 100 men and women who had forwarded the cause of equal opportunity. On the day, people from all over UK, from Bangor to Scotland, came to share the story of their local hero or heroine from 100 years ago. The inspiring stories will be gathered into an e-book, available for free.

Have you had some interesting events in your area, perhaps with photos? Some of our members attended the big 50:50 campaign in the Houses of Parliament, with the "Ask her to stand" campaign. If you have done anything in your local area to celebrate women’s suffrage do share them via the Group email

I also attended an Independent Group meeting in Sittingbourne this week where I was impressed to meet a large crowd of people, eager to find out about being a councillor. The Swale Independents are getting organised, led by Mike, a graduate of our LGA Independent Next Generation Training Programme.

If you would like a Be a Councillor event in your area and can get a dozen interested people together, the Independent Group will support you. Please get in touch!