News from the Conservative Party Conference
Our Director Steve Graham is attending the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this week and will be sending a daily briefing on some of the key statements relevant to the civic movement for our website.
The conference is a great opportunity for Civic Voice to raise awareness of current issues concerning the civic movement to the wider political environment, providing us with the chance to strengthen existing connections and create vital new ones.
“On the first day I attended a number of Fringe events hosted by Parliamentarians and 3rd sector organisations. The first of these was an invitation only event organised by “Social Action” having being invited by the vice-chairman of Conservative Party, Nicola Blackwood, MP. The event included a speech from Ian Duncan Smith, MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in which he made reference to the fact that social action is beginning to work in harder to reach communities and that the organisation Social Action was established to do this very thing. I did speak briefly to Grant Shapps, new Party Chairman, who gave support for the work of our civic society members and had discussions about our work with representatives from a number of organisations including those who work with diverse communities.
From there I went to one of my main “target” events of the evening, an event hosted by the Town and Country Planning Association. Here not only Mark Pawsey, MP, member of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee spoke but also Nick Boles, the recently appointed Planning Minster. Nick stated that he was passionate about the concept of garden cities and community green spaces, that local authorities and communities need to naturally come together and come up with solutions with developers.
Nick continued by saying that “Government will only intervene where necessary” and are “not looking to impose” but see its role as more of a supporting one. This was followed by Mark advocating different ways that communities can get involved in local development, citing a good example from his own constituency-Rugby-where a local planner was helping his community work with the council and developers in planning the future-and all in his own time. I did have a brief chat with Nick, who agreed to meet both Paula Ridley and I in the near future. I also had a longer discussion with Mark about the role that our member societies play in localism and neighbourhood planning. Mark is really interested in hearing more, especially as the Select Committee is looking towards holding a review of the delivery of neighbourhood plans in the future. Once again Mark exchanged contact details with me and said he would be keen to have further discussions about the experience of Civic Voice and our member societies in trying to implement such as neighbourhood plans.
Finally I attended an event titled “What next for Localism? Hosted by NALC. Here headline speaker Brandon Lewis, MP and Under Secretary of State at DCLG focused on the “power of competence” of local authorities and that sometimes they are reluctant to push change through a fear of judicial review. He was very clear that communities should challenge local authority decisions through exercising their “community right” and that local authorities should be facilitating not blocking change. Brandon said that “local community planning defines how a local environment looks” and how that links to the implementation of the community right to challenge. He concluded by stating that this was “the time for Localism” but local support networks were often not established and that such as Parish Councils need to become more involved. I did manage to have a quick word with Brandon, as he was leaving to attend another event, about the issues that some of Civic Voice member societies-and community groups in general-had in participating in discussions at a local level. Brandon was keen to have a fuller discussion about our views and the experience of our members and suggested I arrange a meeting through his office.”
So…a very busy evening but successful in that key Ministers and members of the Conservative Party to the civic society movement heard the Civic Voice message on behalf of its members. We have been invited to further discussions where this will undoubtedly continue. Needless to say Steve made contact with other like-minded voluntary and charitable sector organisations, including the CEO of the Media Trust who are really keen to help spread our message through community media, and will be looking to explore opportunities over the next few months.
With the conference still underway, this is just the beginning for Steve and Civic Voice, on behalf of its members, to further promote the role of the civic movement in creating viable and sustainable communities, both now and in the future. We will be keeping you updated on the remainder of the conference via our website.