Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Conservative Local Government Conference, held in London on Saturday 27th February 1993.
Two years ago, at this Conference, I spoke about my roots in Lambeth. It was where I learned how politics shapes people’s lives. That same local government learning curve is followed with benefit by many in our Party -
One thing local government taught me was -
And again, on May 6th, whatever the wise men say, we’re going to see more Conservative Councils and more Conservative councillors. And we’ll do so because Conservative Councils Cost You Less and Serve You Better. And Labour and Liberal Councils cost you more -
In a moment I want to turn to the future of local government. But first let me deal with one of the issues that most concern people at present -
Every politician cares about unemployment. It’s the trivial politics of simple abuse to suggest otherwise. We all want to see more permanent jobs. But the worst thing any of us can do is to pretend there is some quick fix solution. To kid ourselves and mislead others that with some as yet undiscovered potion there’d be jobs for all.
As the Government, it is our duty to set out the plain truth. So let me do so. But, because it is relevant, let me first put it in context. Unemployment is not just a problem in this country. It is nearly worldwide. Does anyone think the Spanish government want unemployment at nearly 20 per cent? That France wants three million without jobs? That the [indistinct] government are happy that one in six of their population are unemployed? From Canada to Australia, from the USA to France, from Germany to the UK, unemployment has worsened seriously in every country. In recent days, as Leyland-
When pessimists knock Britain and damage our prospects, I hope you will answer back. Set out the facts that show we are poised for recovery. Remind them that interest rates are at their lowest since 1977; inflation is at its lowest since 1967; mortgage rates for first-
And tell them of our trade prospects. Exports are at record levels. Who would have thought a few years ago that we would be exporting cars to Japan? Yet we’re doing just that -
Last year, in the depths of recession, 400,000 new firms set up in business. In Europe five out of the top 10 companies are British. So are 11 Out of the top 20 and 17 out of the top 30. Today, we have the lowest number of strikes in recorded history. These are the conditions that encourage so many foreign companies to invest in Britain, bringing prosperity and jobs with them. Another £100 million worth of American investment was announced just yesterday creating up to 700 jobs. And on the same day, Michael Howard gave the go-
We don’t help the unemployed by spreading doom, gloom and depression. We help our competitors. Other countries don’t talk themselves down. And neither should we. The best way to help unemployed people back into work is to have confidence in our nation and self-
It has been a long haul to put the economic conditions in place for sustained growth and lasting jobs. Now we must take advantage of them. The European Commission predicts that we will be the fastest growing economy in the EC next year. Let’s prove them right. We have done it before. And we can do it again. And it will help enormously if we ditch this habit of national self-
Getting people back to work will take time and it will take persistence. It will be a hard fight. It will need growth in the economy. But we are determined to achieve it.
Our employment programmes are being expanded further from this April. Expanded to offer opportunities for 1.5 million people to get back into work. We are producing practical measures to deal with this problem. Labour call for us to “do something”. But whenever we bring in programmes to help -
And one other thing. We reject -
Let Jacques Delors accuse us of creating a paradise for foreign investors. I am happy to plead guilty. Again and again we warned our European partners about the Social Chapter. And now that our warning has turned out to be right we are not changing policy. They can have the Social Chapter. We'll have the jobs.
The importance of local government
I don’t need persuading about the importance of local government. I know and feel it in my bones. It forms a central part of my political beliefs. So let me set out for you my credo for the future of local government.
Above all, I want the 1990s to see a renaissance of local government -
Second, local councils, like central government, must commit themselves to better quality in public service. People won’t be fobbed off any more with the old excuses -
Third, local government must work with central government to give people more responsibility over their own lives.
Fourth, it’s time to set a structure for local government that will last. We need to define its responsibilities once and for all. And then let you carry them out.
Fifth, we must build a new accountability fit for the 21st century -
Local Government Structure
I believe we have a system of local government finance that will last. Now we must seek a structure of local authorities that will stand the test of time as well. I want this change in structure to be the best -
There is, I think, a widespread view that the structure and responsibilities of local government are not as clear as they should be. The pattern is too complex. There is a case for structural change.
But a structure that lasts will not be one that Whitehall has imposed. It will be one that grows naturally from people’s loyalties and local traditions. That’s why we have no national blueprint for local government structure.
In the 1880s this Party set out a pattern of local government that endured for a century. In the 1990s I want to agree a new pattern -
Where the system works well, don’t let’s change it. And let me tell you one other thing, plain and simple. There is going to be no -
Local government in the modern era
We are the Conservative Party. Think what that means. It means we do not change for change’s sake. We only change for improvement. And we look for improvement in local government because we care about it.
I want our reforms to be the friend of local government, not the enemy. The more effective local government is, the more popular it will be. We want to show people which councils are serving them best -
The public pay their taxes compulsorily. They should be given more information voluntarily. That’s why we are allowing the Audit Commission power to publish more comparative league tables of performance -
Quality Service from Conservative Councils
I know that not everyone welcomes the new openness. Even some Conservatives are uneasy. We shouldn't be. It is one of the great differences between us and the other parties. We recognise that this is the age of the consumer, not the producer. And the new ethos of public service and value for money must apply as much to the local council as it does in the market place.
It’s in Labour councils that you'll find the homes left empty, the rents uncollected, the inefficiency and worse.
If you doubt that’s true, consider this. Labour councils are planning to charge nearly £100 more in council tax than Conservative ones. Liberal Democrats are planning £50 more. That’s the soggy Left for you -
Creating a New Accountability
I spoke also of a new accountability. Let me say more about what we mean by that.
We mean direct accountability -
Council tenants want more control over the management of their lives. So give them the chance to buy -
Hardly revolutionary, you might think. Yet there are still some in the Labour Party who claim that to give people more information upon which to base their choices is an assault on democracy.
Don’t you find that astonishing? Is that not really a perversion of logic and language. How can giving choice be an assault on democracy? How can giving more information be an assault on democracy? So much for the fine talk from Labour about being the Party of the individual. What they mean is that Labour is the Party that likes to tell individuals what to do.
Let us be the Party that tells individuals what Government is doing.
We give them information.
We give them choice.
And we give them power.
These are the policies that people want. And if Labour really understood individuals they would know that. All of us here today have a sense of common purpose. Michael Howard and his team have been working hard to build an ever closer relationship between Conservative councils and a Conservative Government. And what you have done to introduce the Council Tax smoothly is a tribute to that new spirit as well. We serve the same people in the same country and we serve them best when we work together.
Enabling Businesses to Grow
Let me tell you of some of the other key areas where I want Conservative government -
All of us in public service have our part to play in getting the economy growing again. You know -
This year’s local authority settlement is tight. So is public spending as a whole. We have a 1.5 per cent limit on public sector pay. I know many of you are being very robust in your budgeting this year. But with inflation now down to 1.7 per cent, there is no better time for pushing through tough decisions on spending and pay.
And, in our battle for more jobs, there is more we can do to help business. Take planning. Of course we must cherish and protect our heritage. No one doubts that. But restrictive planning policies can shut the door on business opportunities. Wherever possible, we should be helping new businesses locate in our areas, and help people to move where jobs are available -
And you can help, too, by getting unnecessary regulation off businesses’ backs. I acknowledge that we in government have often gone too far in imposing unnecessary regulatory duties on local councils. Well, that’s going to stop.
But I need your help too. Some council departments enforce such regulations with too heavy a hand. We must stop that as well.
So here are some questions for you to ask your Environmental Health Officers and your social services departments. And perhaps they should ask their clients too.
Why do so many nursery schools complain about social services inspection? Do Environmental Health Officers really take account of local needs when they inspect the local shop? Do they insist on higher standards for the private and voluntary sectors than they do in the public sector?
We have to make deregulation effective. So I ask for your help to do so. It is one sure way of helping businesses to grow. Prospects to grow. And jobs to grow.
And, in local government, you have other ways to join us in extending choice and opportunity to all.
In housing, it was Conservative, councils who pioneered the right to buy. They saw an opportunity to help people achieve their dreams of home ownership. And they did so. And government followed where local government led. As a result, nearly one and a half million council tenants have become home owners under Right to Buy since 1979.
And don’t believe it when people say that the demand for home ownership is past. I don’t accept that for a second.
That is why the Housing bill, now before Parliament, gives tenants a new right to become home-
And now -
Michael Howard and his team will be launching a new campaign to spread the Right to Buy. They will be taking that message to more than a million tenants this spring.
I want you to help them spread that message. Help those people to know the pride of ownership. To have their very own piece of Britain. And to build up something for themselves and for their children.
We must also give parents a bigger say in the education of their children. More schools are going grant maintained. All schools are running more of their own budgets. And I don’t expect to hear of Conservative councils standing in their way. We must always remember what we are fighting for -
Education is still a battleground for the Left and for the same reasons. Education can liberate. An educated person is hard to oppress. It is education above all that makes a society of opportunity and breaks the bonds of class. To parents it brings that most priceless gift: the certainty that their children will have better opportunities than they ever had.
That’s why the Conservative Party -
So let’s make parents and pupils the driving force in our schools. Let people in years to come look back and remember that it was we -
The Message of Conservatism
This Spring, we face County Council elections. Take this message with you as you campaign.
If you want to keep the Council Tax low, vote Conservative.
If you want high standards in schools, vote Conservative.
If you want local government that puts people first, vote Conservative.
Our councillors know no equals in dedication, determination and commitment. You get involved to make things better. You don’t turn away and leave it to others. So don’t be bashful. Go and get out there. Tell them what you stand for. Tell them what you have achieved. Tell them what you plan for the future.
That is what you've always done. That is why you win. And that is why you'll deserve to win again on May 6th.