Ann O'Byrne: "Big society, plus big cuts, equals big con"
Date: 22 June 2011

Ann O'Byrne, Liverpool Labour's Cabinet member for Housing and Community Safety, has slammed the Lib Dem / Tory Government's record on cuts, localism and the big society.

In a speech to the Chartered Institue of Housing, Ann asked how the Government would be able to make the Big Society work whilst also cutting hundreds of millions of pounds from local authorities just like Liverpool City Council.

Cllr Ann O'ByrneThe Lib Dem / Tory Government have cut £141million from Liverpool City Council's funding over two years, including £17million which previously went towards supporting Liverpool's charity and voluntary sector.

Ann also asked how the localism bill would be able to produce real localism whist cutting local authority funds and instead giving the Secretary of State in Whitehall a total of 126 new legal powers.

And she asked how elected mayors being imposed upon cities across the country could be considered in any way localist.

Ann said: "Big Society, plus big cuts, equals big con.

"Look again at what’s in the Localism bill, and what it actually does.

"This is a localism bill, designed to give powers to local people. And yet, the Localism Bill gives a total of 126 new powers to the Secretary of state.
"Is that localism?"
Ann called on the Government to look again at their cuts, and to halt them to give charities and voluntary sector organisations the chance to grow and develop, and to conintue to provide support to voluntary groups across the country. The full text of Ann's speech follows.


Cllr Ann O'Byrne

Speech to the Chartered Institue of Housing

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Check against delivery

Good afternoon everyone.
Thank you for inviting me to come and speak today.
I am Cllr Ann O’Byrne, Liverpool City Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Community Safety.
Its great to have the opportunity to come and talk to you today about localism and about the Big Society.
In particular, I want to spend some time giving you my thoughts on how these two issues – each of them absolutely key planks of the Coalition Government’s reforming agenda – are making the transformation from Government Green and White Papers to actual reality on the ground.
Now I’ll just give you a bit of a health warning here.
So far today we’ve heard some interesting takes on the Big Society and localism.
Its been an absorbing debate which is bound to continue for some time yet.
And it is an important debate.
Localism, and how local people are helped to shape the world around them, is one of the central ideas of modern politics.
And many of these ideas cut across party political lines.
The ideas which fall within these concepts – ideas of empowerment, local decision making and enabling greater community activism to flourish – these are all ideas that few people could find opposition too.
But I’m afraid that after a year of working with these ideas in their current form, from the current Government, we in Liverpool don’t have a great deal to say about the Localism Bill nor the Big Society that is positive.
The Government haven’t been able to match lofty ambitions with action on the ground.
In the cases of the Big Society and of localism, swingeing cuts to local government resources have undermined both.
And even beyond the crude measurement of cuts, the legislation itself has at times made it difficult to take the Government at its word, and to believe it is pursuing a truly localist agenda.
The Government have talked of big ideas, bold plans, and ambitious goals.
But action on the ground – and the legislation around localism – again leaves an onlooker who has localist ambitions of their own with a sense that, in fact, this Government is far less localist than it claims to be.
So I am afraid, therefore, that this isn’t going to be a speech which lavishes praise on the Big Society and localism.
Certainly not those being put forward by this Government.
Whilst I share some of their broad principles, my experience of the reality on the ground has fallen some way short of our expectations.
So, lets take them in turn, beginning with localism.
And lets start from an admission: really, we are all localist.
Especially in the realm of housing, we know that the best decisions about this vital area of policy are those decisions made by the people who’s lives they will affect the most.
Anyone who wants to drive efforts to renew the housing stock in this country knows that this is a job best done locally.
It is a job best done by local developers, local councils driven by local people, with local planning decisions and local decision making.
Who can argue with any of that? Certainly not me, which is why I was cautiously optimistic when I first heard of the Government’s intentions to push power away from the centre and from Whitehall, into the hands of local people.
In Liverpool, we’re battling against nothing short of a housing crisis.
When Labour took control of the council, 12 months ago, we faced a city with 13,000 boarded up homes.
At the same time, there are 23,000 people on the waiting list for social housing.