Good morning, everybody.
Thank you – it's a pleasure to be at my first CCN conference.
I was reflecting back to January, when I was first appointed as Local Government Minister. It's obviously my first ministerial job, so you make that transition from being a backbencher to joining the government. And it does make you think about who your boss is now going to be.
As an MP, it was pretty clear my boss was the people of Richmond in my constituency, but I was answering to the government, who was I answering to?
Some people would tell me 'well, of course, it's your Secretary of State'; some said to me ‘well no, no, it’s the Prime Minister’. But it was very quickly on the job I learned that chap called Paul Carter.
In all seriousness, it's been a real pleasure to know about the past several months – and I'm very grateful for everything you do to make the case for counties in Westminster. So, thank you to you, your team, and everyone else in the CCN. It has been a genuine working pleasure together over the past few months.
I read an article recently making a powerful case for strong local government. The article compared national politicians and ministers like me to "generals in Tolstoy novels … moving pieces around the board, while actual battle is nothing like they imagine".
That struck a chord with me. Even as a constituency MP, I have always been an incredible, tangible and direct impact that you all have on people's lives.
There are many services that you have to provide: from social care and children 'services to broadband and highways, from trading standards and advice to blue badges and fostering.
You are all for this 26 million people across 86% of England's landmass and half of England's economy.
When you think about it, it really is an incredible responsibility.
And I am the first to recommend that you have delivered these services in what has been a very difficult financial climate.
I think it's fair to say that no other part of government has carried out a greater share of burden in improving the country's finances.
You are very much on the front line, and you have shown unmatched leadership and creativity delivering high quality services over the past several years. And I pay tribute to your work in this regard.
I am genuinely honored to be your champion in government, and today I thought I'd spend time touching on three themes about why I'm incredibly optimistic for what the future holds for County Councils:
Firstly, I'm going to talk about the new fairer funding system.
Secondly, I'll touch on the crucial role you have in driving social mobility in our country.
And finally, the vital role you play in helping our society's most vulnerable.
Isaac Newton once said: "Nature is pleased with simplicity."
I think, then, we can safely assume that Nature won't be pleased with the existing local government finance formula!
I very much want our County to be on a solid and fair financial footing for the future.
We can't do that without a new formula that is more accurate, simpler, and fairer.
I can assure you that introducing this new formula is among my highest priorities.
The opportunity for such a comprehensive, fresh look like this doesn't come that often.
So I'm clear: we absolutely have to get this right.
That’s why I’m extremely grateful to have made it to the department. I have a lot of time reflecting on the issues that you have absolutely right to highlight to us.
I just want to touch on a couple in particular:
Deprivation. To suggest that the vast areas of the country that you represent have no pockets of deprivation simply aren 'a reflection of reality. So it is right that any new formula recognizes deprivation at a more local, individual level – it is not just something that happens in cities.
And we are all too aware that our country demographics are changing. Far faster than the designers of the formula may have even thought in particular areas.
The new formula must be smart – keeping track of our rapidly changing population, giving a realistic picture of the pressures of actual expenditure on the ground.
Nor will the formula overlook how rural creates challenges for service delivery. My own constituency in North Yorkshire has a very good cost of delivering services in more rural areas.
I'm pleased to say that we will publish the latest shortly round of our consultations, ahead of implementation in 2020/21.
And I'm a simple formula, which recognizes relative need and resources much more fairly than ever before, is now finally within our reach.
I am very passionate about ensuring that everybody, no matter what their background, has the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
A fair chance to build a good life for themselves regardless of their family circumstances, or where they came from.
Spreading the opportunity and unlocking of the enormous potential of our people – that is why I came into politics and I am sure the same is true for many of you.
But, almost every area of public policy, without local government this ambition can not be realized.
So I'm like to thank you sincerely for all your work on the Social Mobility Counties report.
The report was absolutely right to highlight that social mobility is a particular issue for our counties.
There is no one silver bullet course but the work that you are doing every day is making it towards a more socially mobile society:
Providing transport networks that can be used to travel to their work placement, equipping them with the skills they need for a successful career.
Rolling out the high-speed broadband that an entrepreneur will use to start a successful business and increase local employment.
The investment in nursery provision and high-take-up of early years of education – so crucial for a child development.
At every step of the journey, you are all there.
I recommend the CCN to use its powerful voice to show both your commitment to social mobility, and your willingness and capability to make it reality.
As the Secretary of State is launching, the government will look closely at the recommendations you have made to see how best we can empower you to do more.
It is clear that when it comes to spreading opportunity, you all have a vital role to play. I am delighted that you have a priority and look forward to backing all of your ambitions.
Supporting the most vulnerable
Now, of course it is exciting and inspiring to talk about how to help people achieve success, but we should also remember that:
Yours are the first hands that reach out to those who fall on hard times.
You are the front line of how we treat the most vulnerable in our society.
It is really a responsibility that you shoulder, but you never let us down, and I thank you for all your work.
But the important work that you do is not just about fixing the problems of today. I am more ambitious than that, and I know that you are too.
At this very moment, your key workers are helping to bring about family dealing with multiple complex issues through the Troubled Families Program.
My first visit as a Minister was spending time with some families that the program had helped. It is an experience that I will never forget.
This revolutionary way of working, this whole family support, has saved children from going into care.
It has helped people find the dignity and security of employment.
And it has ensured that families stay strong and stay together.
It is a testament to how your intervention today prevents problems tomorrow.
I want you to be free to innovate and tackle problems before they even emerge. So as spending review approaches, I think we, collectively, need to think about how best your counsel can be resourced to invest in prevention.
I am passionate about learning from all of you central government can best support your aspirations in this area. Because your track record shows us that you can make a major difference.
If we can get this right in the future, working together, we can truly transform the lives of thousands of the most vulnerable people in our society.
And that really would be something to be very proud of.
So, while the intense debate continues to dominate the headlines, I know that you will go on delivering for your 26 million constituents.
Ensuring that their communities are enriching places to call home.
I have always seen my role as a champion in government.
Now, of course, my voice is one of many I can promise that we will win every argument.
But I can promise you that I will keep making your case.
And I genuinely believe that the concerns of local government are being listened to now more than ever.
I hope that recent announcements in the budget are a clear sign that this approach is working.
If we can get this right in the future, it's really positive about all the good that we can do.
So, in conclusion, I am very proud to be your champion.
I'm humbled by seeing everything that you have achieved.
And I'm enormously excited about what we can achieve working together in the future – we hope that we will be able to look forward to working together.