In defence of Eric Pickles (no, really this time)
Two days ago a guest poster hinted at a defence of Eric Pickles but after flashing us a little piece of leg gave us an equally valid but slightly less Pickles-defending post about the way some critics of Mr Pickles choose to attack him for reasons not connected to his policies.
After a quick editorial meeting at WLLG towers we decided that one of us should write a proper defence of Mr Pickles. At first I thought it would be a challenge but to be honest there is much about Mr Pickles to admire.
Let’s start with the obvious:
If you accept the Conservative’s overarching philosophy which says that the country is bust and we need to do everything we can to cut public spending and thus the deficit then Mr Pickles has been a consistent presence. Whereas other cabinet ministers have caved into the pressures of their departments Mr Pickles has been steadfast in cutting the budgets of both the DCLG and the wider local government sector.
However, that is not to say that Mr Pickles has been a single minded budget cutter. Where there are issues which he feels are important to local voters the Secretary of State has been a consistent defender of his pre-election policies. Thus, we have seen two years of council tax freezes and money set aside for weekly bin collections. Like it or not Mr Pickles has identified issues which he thinks justified his party’s election and has delivered on them.
It hasn’t just been pet causes Mr Pickles has found money for. Yes, the budget cuts faced by local authorities have been tough but many of those in areas with tough budget cuts have talked about the dampening grant being a real life-saver. Not something the Secretary of State would crow about but it has made a real difference.
So what about those issues not related to the budget of local authorities?
Well, on the issue of freedom of information Mr Pickle’s DCLG has been remarkably consistent. Whilst authorities have been spared the burden of endless performance indicators the Government have been firm about what they expect local authorities to do in return. National data sets will be made available for members of the public; all spend over £500 is published and even the salaries of top local authority staff will be made available for the local populace to wade through.
Thus, whilst authorities have been freed from some of the shackles of the central Government Mr Pickles has been consistent in making sure that replacing the Government’s demand for data has been a commitment for as much information as possible to be available to the citizen auditors.
Likewise Mr Pickles has been a consistent cutter of red tape with regulations that previously kept local authorities in check being reduced (often pages at a time) leaving local authorities with more freedom. The localism bill followed in that vein with councils being given a power of general competence and with it many more options for how to operate. Although the companion changes to powers for the general public were less widely hailed they at least provided a direction of travel that seeks to make the public have a greater involvement in their local government.
Allied to this Eric Pickles has been a full throated advocate for his policies and has made mincemeat of his opponents; wherever they have come from. Neither the LGA, local councillors nor the Labour Shadow Secretaries of State have really been successful in marshalling a coherent message against Eric Pickles. At the end of the day that is what a politician is meant to do and Mr Pickles has been brilliant at it.
Eric Pickles isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but you know what if you take him at face value he’s been pretty successful at achieving what he set out to do.
Eric, we might not say this very often on this blog but we salute you.
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