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We need a devolution revolution to drive the green revolution

July 7, 2020 10:12 PM
By Rugby Lib Dems

Ed Davey MP (Graham Neale)Today Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey has delivered a keynote speech to the Local Government Association outlining his plan for a devolution revolution to drive a green revolution.

Ed Davey called for the government to make £45bn new funding available to local authorities over three years alongside a range of new powers so that local government can spearhead the green recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said:

"Even as coronavirus has caused unbearable heartbreak and hardship, it has been truly uplifting to see the great work councils right across the country are doing to support local people.

"The sheer cost of failing to prepare for the predicted risk of the pandemic crisis should be a dramatic wake up call to prepare properly, now, for the predicted risk of a climate crisis.

"For too long, Government has paid lip service to the vital role local authorities have in tackling the climate emergency - but failed to match their words with action.

"Our plan requires local authorities to be fully empowered. With central government giving the funding and the powers needed to bring about a Green Revolution in in local communities."

Lib Dem group leader at the Local Government Association, Howard Sykes said:

"I am proud that the Liberal Democrats are the only party to have created a credible, deliverable plan to build a green recovery that will bring jobs to local areas and continue the fight to stop the climate crisis.

"The work that has been done by local councils across the nation through this coronavirus crisis has been inspiring. Councillors and officers have worked tirelessly to help residents in unbelievably challenging circumstances, it has proven the importance of local government, and particularly in a national crisis.

"I hope Central Government will take our plans seriously and give local authorities the power and funds we need to deliver a green revolution in the wake of the coronavirus crisis."

Ed Davey speech to LGA in full

**Check against Delivery**

Good morning.

It's great to be with you today - albeit virtually. Thank you to the LGA for inviting me to speak about the crucial role of local government - not just in keeping our communities safe during this coronavirus pandemic, but also in building the fairer, greener, more prosperous country we all want to see as we emerge from this crisis.

Of course it's a great shame not to be joining you in Harrogate. I hope you're all keeping well and safe during these difficult times.

And I want to start by saying a huge thank you, to all of you for everything you are doing as councillors and council officers - especially right now.

Even as coronavirus has caused unbearable heartbreak and hardship , it has been truly uplifting to see the great work councils right across the country are doing to support local people.

Here in Kingston, I've been enormously proud of the work our Liberal Democrat council has done to get laptops to disadvantaged children so they can continue to learn, and to get food parcels to vulnerable people so they can stay safe at home.

I'm proud, too, of the work so many other Liberal Democrat councils and councillors have done in your communities.

Like South Cambridgeshire Council, supporting volunteer schemes in every village and town in the district and setting up three hot meal schemes for people unable to access their usual meals at schools or day centres.

Like South Lakeland District Council, delivering free sanitary products to dozens of pick-up points to make sure the fight against period poverty doesn't go backwards while schools are closed.

And I know so many councils in all parts of the UK have performed similar feats: whether it's getting homeless people off the streets and into accommodation, or getting protective equipment to social care staff when the Government let them down so badly.

And all that while making sure our bins still get emptied, our waste still gets recycled and our buses are still running - even though coronavirus has made all that work so much harder.

This pandemic has highlighted something the Liberal Democrats have always understood: local authorities are the key institutions that enable our communities to come together and deliver the vital services people need. That's true in "normal" times, and it's even more important in a crisis like this.

Yet, sadly, this Conservative Government still doesn't seem to get it.

The sums Ministers have announced for councils fall embarrassingly far short of what local authorities need to weather this crisis - let alone to strengthen local services as we recover from Covid.

The Government simply doesn't understand the huge hit local authority finances have taken in the past few months, or the enormous strain they were under before.

And it's not just on funding that the Government is letting local authorities down. Far too often, Government seems to have forgotten them altogether.

Just look at what we've seen in Leicester. Where the council wasn't even given the full testing data until a week after the Health Secretary announced Leicester was a surge area. Since then, the Government seems to have treated local leaders in Leicester as opponents to blame for the lockdown, rather than as partners to help implement it.

In fact, this Government's obsession with centralisation - their quest to hoard power for themselves - is a big part of why their response to this pandemic has been so shambolic.

I've called for an independent public inquiry into the Government's handling of this crisis and when the Government eventually relents and sets one up, I will urge that inquiry to look specifically at Whitehall's failure to value the role you've played - and Ministers' failure properly to support and work with you.

The truth is, local leaders should have been part of the Government's decision-making since the very beginning of this crisis - as the Liberal Democrats have been calling for all along.

Local Government leaders should have been round the virtual table with Ministers and public health officials from the start, feeding in their local expertise and concerns, and taking shared responsibility for implementing the measures needed to keep our communities safe.

They should have been kept up-to-date with all the local data on cases and tests, so that they could identify local surges and take action to stop them - instead of being kept in the dark, waiting for Ministers in Whitehall to swoop in and save the day.

It's just so damaging - especially in a crisis like this - to have a Government that thinks of local authorities as at best an irrelevance and at worst an impediment.

The Government must not make the same mistake of discounting and ignoring local government as we set about recovering from this crisis.

Because local government has an absolutely central role to play in making sure the country we build post-Covid is greener, fairer and more equal than before.

We've all known for decades that our country is too unequal. The huge gaps between rich and poor, men and women, black and white, the South East and everywhere else… these gaps have been far too big, for far too long.

Coronavirus has highlighted those inequalities - and deepened them.

Women and people from BAME backgrounds have been more likely to lose their jobs or see their incomes slashed.

Those struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic have fallen further behind on bills, and too many are now trapped in debt from which they can see no escape.

And most telling of all, deprived areas and BAME communities have seen higher death rates than richer, whiter places.

The Government must ensure recovery doesn't entrench such inequalities even more, but instead actively and effectively works to reduce inequality.

And the recovery must not undermine the fight against climate change: it must strengthen it.

I tell you frankly, this may be our last best chance to transition our economy to net zero carbon fast enough.

Surely the sheer cost of failing to prepare for the predicted risk of the pandemic crisis should be a dramatic wake up call to prepare properly, now, for the predicted risk of a climate crisis?

For the reality is, the Conservative Government's climate policy has been lamentable these last 5 years: we are nowhere near on target to cut our greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough.

Yet if we truly integrate economic policy with climate policy, we could make the rapid progress we need for our planet.

And we could rebuild our economy and get people back to work.

But it requires nothing less than a Green Revolution.

That's why I have called on the Government to invest £150 billion - 150, not the paltry 5 billion Johnson promised last week - over the next three years on a Green Recovery Plan. On insulating homes. On green transport. On renewable energy. On restoring lost biodiversity.

Much of this would best be delivered by you. By local government.

Creating new community renewable energy projects - so residents can get cheap, green, local electricity.

New bus routes, cleaner buses. Walking and cycling a first choice transport option. Clean air zones to cut vehicle emissions, combat air pollution and protect our children's lungs.

Planting trees and restoring our natural environment. Taking carbon out of the atmosphere, reversing biodiversity loss and enabling everyone to enjoy the huge health benefits of green open spaces.

And embarking on a massive programme - a massive programme - of home insulation.
To upgrade the energy efficiency of every home to at least Band B Energy Performance Certificates by 2030. Starting with all low-income homes by 2025, so we eradicate fuel poverty faster than planned.

This is hugely ambitious. But such a massive homes upgrade would by itself rapidly create hundreds of thousands of good-paying green jobs in every part of the country.

Not just in London, not just in the South East, not just in a handful of big cities - in every part of the country.

Exactly what we need to prevent mass unemployment as we emerge from the pandemic. To deliver on a green jobs and training guarantee for our young people

Together, this Green Recovery Plan could finally put us on the path to net-zero.

But this plan requires local authorities to be fully empowered to play your part. With central government giving you the funding and the powers you need to bring about a Green Revolution in your community.

That's why today I'm calling on the Government to provide £45 billion of green recovery investment over the next three years directly to local authorities, to fund:

Home insulation programmes;
New bus and cycle routes;
Light rail and tram lines;
Tree planting and nature restoration;
Community energy projects;
Electric vehicle charging infrastructure;
And other projects to cut emissions and create green jobs in your community.

And the Government must match that funding with the extra powers you need.

Powers to re-regulate and commission local bus services.
To invest in tram networks.
Greater powers to make walking and cycling easier and safer.
Powers to fast-track the roll out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Greater powers over housing and planning, including the power to ensure new housing developments must include access to high-quality public transport.
And powers to introduce ultra-low-emission zones that accelerate the shift to electric vehicles.

For too long, Government has paid lip service to the vital role of local authorities in tackling the climate emergency - but failed to match their words with action.

Nevertheless, Liberal Democrat councils across the country have taken it upon themselves to act:

In Chelmsford, you've planted 13,000 trees - as part of a programme to plant one tree for every resident in the district over ten years.

In York, you've launched a brilliant and bold anti-litter campaign with the slogan "don't be a tosser".

And in Sutton, you've built the UK's first ultra-low-energy "passivhaus" secondary school.

But I want the Government to enable you to do even more.

With the new powers for councils I'm proposing and £45 billion of new green funding for councils - you would all be able to take a real lead in the fight against climate change.

A Devolution Revolution to drive the Green Revolution.

And it's not just on climate change where the Government needs to start matching warm words about local government with real power and hard cash.

On a whole range of issues, this Government expects more and more from local authorities while giving you less and less -

Handing councils responsibility for some of the toughest challenges, without also handing over the power or funding you need to tackle them.

Creating ever more statutory duties - to prevent homelessness, provide accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse, or implement a public health approach to serious violence - while simultaneously cutting your funding.

Ministers announce new, headline-grabbing pots of money - that turn out to be small pots, and pots you don't get unless you bid, and get lucky.

We need to campaign for the stronger local democracy other countries take for granted. Local authorities need a long-term, sustainable funding settlement - and they need to be given much greater control over how they raise the money to serve their communities.

Nowhere - nowhere - is this attitude more evident than in social care.

Caring for the elderly, the disabled and the vulnerable is a fundamental duty of government.

It speaks directly to who we are as a country and the caring society we want to build.

It's something I care deeply about myself, having spent much of my own life as a carer - first for my mum during her long battle with bone cancer, then for my Nanna, and now for my disabled son, John.

The Government's tragic failure to properly protect care home residents and social care staff from coronavirus makes me angry.

But it's yet another example of how, for too many politicians in Westminster, care is just an afterthought.

But as some who has to care for my disabled son every day, care for me is my first thought.

I know the frustration so many councillors have - that they can't provide the level of care they know is needed because of how drastically the Government is underfunding social care.

A £1 billion shortfall for adult social care this year, set to rise to £4 billion by 2025.
It didn't have to be this way.

But the Conservatives ripped up the cross-party agreement on social care funding carefully stitched together through the Dilnot Commission and the Care Act when the Liberal Democrats were in Government.

As a result, more than a million people are missing out on the care they need and would have had.

So all too often, people are left stranded in hospital after they finish their treatment because the follow-up care and support they need to go home is simply not available.

So the immediate gap in social care funding must be plugged, now.

And Government must work with all parties - and with local government - to build a sustainable future for social care services across the country.

Fixing the crisis in social care.
Tackling the climate emergency.
Addressing deep-seated inequalities in our society.
Rebuilding our economy after the coronavirus pandemic.

These are enormous challenges.

They will take ambition, determination and innovation.

They cannot be solved by a new announcement from the Government, a new piece of legislation in Parliament, or a new set of guidelines from Whitehall - important though they might be.

They can only be solved if local authorities are empowered - through devolution of funding and devolution of control - to make the decisions and implement the changes that your communities need.

That's something the Liberal Democrats have been fighting for throughout our history.

It's part of our DNA.

And we will not give up that fight.

Thank you.