Yesterday, the new ministerial team at the Department for Communities and Local Government appeared before Parliament. It was an important first opportunity for MPs to test the new government’s commitment to strengthening respect for communities and local democracy – and the early signs are good.
I had been concerned that the Conservative pledge in opposition to review the local funding formula – that, under Labour, so neglected Surrey – might fall by the wayside. (The Lib Dems had campaigned on a pledge to introduce a local income tax, in place of council tax, which would have cost the average family in Elmbridge £2,500 extra each year.) So I put the question directly, and Communities Minister, Bob Neill, gave an equally clear commitment to review the formula. You can read the exchange here. We need a fairer deal for local funding, to fix the pot holes, provide enough school places and support lower income areas in Elmbridge and Surrey.
In other answers, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles also re-affirmed his commitment to scrap top-down housing targets, like the South East Plan, that threaten our greenbelt, and look at the case for returning more of the tax revenue raised locally from the sale of homes and business rates to local communities – to incentivise provision of affordable housing and local business growth.
It is early days. But I sense that the conversation between communities and government is at last beginning to change. I will continue to actively support the government in delivering stronger local democracy – and a fairer deal for Surrey taxpayers.