Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Eric Pickles' Strange View of the World

I have a confession. I like Eric Pickles.

I've worked for the Tory Party and been a Tory Councillor. I know that within Party circles, he's held in high regard, and has a populist, popular touch.

But his latest announcement that he is consulting on banning Councils from using "hired-gun lobbyists that operate in the shadows to bulldoze special interests through" central government is just playing politics.

Let me explain why Eric is wrong:

1. If 'hired gun lobbyists' (what a ridiculous phrase) can 'bulldoze special interests' through the Government, then maybe he ought instead to ask his Department to be a little more rigorous in examining Councils' proposals? If his officials just roll over in the face of any old argument, then I have a pretty simple way he can save the public purse some money....

2. He assumes that no public body has the right to take a different view to that of the Government. From a Secretary of State who believes in localism that's a pretty strange position. Because if he did believe they were able to take a different view, then why wouldn't he let them lobby for that view? As the former Leader of Bradford Council, he should know that Bradford and Whitehall don't always see eye to eye.

3. If he does accept the pretty Conservative view that Whitehall doesn't always know best, then why shouldn't Councils bring in temporary, specialist support to make their case? I thought that from Nick Ridley onwards there was a strong tradition of Conservatives believing that it made financial sense for Councils to use outside consultants to cover exceptional, unpredictable needs?

Of course, I don't believe that Mr Pickles really believes in all of this. But he certainly does believe in the power of publicity. Now his tough man act might deliver him some good headlines in the Daily Mail, but it won't help him deliver better local governance -or better value for the taxpayer either. As we all know, measuring effectiveness by how thick the press cuttings are is a pretty artificial, short-term method.

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