Cllr Jonathan Owen is the Leader of East Riding of Yorkshire Council
Prior to the 2019 local elections I submitted a piece to Conservative Home which outlined our positivity at East Riding of Yorkshire Council around the elections by our approach of concerning ourselves with local issues. At a time when national expectation was one of gloom for Conservative councils, we were one of the very few that increased our number of seats with a healthy majority. We enjoyed an influx of new councillors, who have integrated into the local government world.
With elections again in May 2023, will we be in the same position?
Never in my 22 years as a Councillor, most spent in a deputy Leader and Cabinet role, and now Leader, have I been more uncertain of the next election results.
Austerity, Brexit, Covid, Cost of Living, Inflation, now all are stacked against any Party with no clear vision of a route to tackle the issues – and the public are restless and many suffering.
Levelling up and devolution are the current way forward, but using the principle of universal proportionalism (understood by those in Public Health circles under the principles of Sir Michael Marmot) which advocates a proportional use of intervention across the whole – not just targeted at the areas of most need – we must ensure that everyone has that proportionate share of levelling up funding, for the long term, not short term politics.
‘Place’ is the new mantra – ensuring we are acting across our ‘place’, usually our upper tier local government boundaries shared between a couple of authorities.
Why are we in local government?.
My view is simple, we are here to protect the vulnerable and improve the quality of life for everyone else. To achieve this we need three simple things, originally put to me by Duncan Selbie, former head of Public Health England: to give people a job, a roof over their heads, and a friend, – and then you are supporting your residents for the best chances in life.
To achieve this? We use our non statutory, but essential role, to promote economic development across the spectrum, from multi-national companies, where we can assure the supply of land through our local plans and pressing for enterprise zones etc. We work with our MP’s to support local large businesses and our plethora of SME’s (Small and Medium Enterprises) through ensuring the planning system is geared up to get things moving – and continuing to invest in our start up business units with accompanying wrap-around support and advice.
We will accelerate our provision of affordable housing.
We will build on the great community spirit shown throughout the pandemic.
We are, again, entering a new world of change to the NHS with the introduction of the new Integrated Care Systems in July. The cynical ones among us who have experienced the constant top-down restructuring of the NHS and countless attempts to get away from the fact that the NHS has really become a National Hospital Service, not Health Service, can now involve ourselves in pushing for total system integration. This is through the new, local government weighted, Integrated Care Partnerships, working alongside and feeding into the Integrated Care Boards, to deliver on the intent of the NHS to involve itself in health prevention and tackling inequalities. We are pushing for this opportunity to claim funding from, and co-produced working with, the NHS to invest in our ‘place’ to tackle those inequalities the NHS is now to involve itself in: including economic development and working with local authorities who have influence in all those areas that affect our health and wellbeing, e.g. Early years, Education, Transport, Housing, Economic Development, Leisure, Culture and Arts, Streetscene, Public Health and Inequalities, Open spaces, Adult and Childrens Social Care etc.
We have the opportunity for integration post-Covid, where joint working, carried out through necessity, can be built on for new working relationships moving ahead. The pandemic has spotlighted the huge potential of the voluntary and community sector, which we in the East Riding do not want to lose. We have introduced a new priority in our council plan of ‘Empowering Communities’ where we ensure that the value of asset-based community development, building on the strengths already inherent in the community through community groups, societies, etc, can be used to support and invest our limited resources in what’s already there and working – to shift from a position where we think we know best to supporting what is actually proven to work and owned by the communities we support.
Our role in local government is to put the wishes of our residents first, in our ‘place’, to our leaders in national government, not just be the delivery arm of national policy.
I remind all new candidates entering politics that in an ideal scenario where you may have a 60 per cent turnout in an election (six in ten vote) and you have a wonderful result of over 50 per cent voting for you (three of the six) then seven out of ten did not actually vote for you (70 per cent).
You represent all of them and the slightest shift in opinion through a local or national issue can sway all those that don’t vote.
We cannot ever be complacent. But we’ll be fighting on the local issues.