Independent Group Leader's Bulletin 12 July 2019

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local government association - independent group

Group Leader's Bulletin

12 July 2019


Good afternoon!

Welcome to your first weekly bulletin since our AGM, keeping you in touch with the LGA Independent Group of Councillors across England and Wales where we work in partnership with the Welsh Local Government.

Your council is a member of the LGA, which makes you a member of the Independent Group. Our job is two-fold: to support councillors and councils to do the best possible job for residents and to influence government and the public to better support us, with some impressive results. 

There are four group officers, and Sarah Woodhouse is Head of Group office. Our Group is made up of Independents, Resident Association Members, Greens, Plaid Cymru members and a number of smaller parties.

Currently our group consists of 77.6 per cent Independents, 13 per cent Green, 7.2 per cent Plaid Cymru and 2.2 per cent UKIP. Although our members may be from different political groups, we all focus on our residents and operate without a party whip, putting local people ahead of politics.

On the LGA website, the Independent Group box at the bottom of the home page is your section, full of online resources, information on events in your region and in London, and opportunities to directly influence national policy through our boards and online think tanks.

A huge thank you for your brilliant support in the elections, electing me as Leader of the Group and Vice Chairman of the Local Government Association as a whole. Congratulations to our new Treasurer, Paul Woodhead, and thanks to all who took part. The official figures were as follows:

Group Leader
Turnout: 25.6%
Overton, Marianne: 593 (88% of vote)
Radford, Steve: 81 (12%)

Turnout: 25.4%
Hollis, Tom: 324 (48%)
Woodhead, Paul: 345 (52%)

The Independent Group members have done a fantastic job over the years, reflected in the recent elections. To get the best for our communities in the long term, it is incumbent on us all to consolidate our success by doing a great job for residents first and foremost. Then it’s our job to find and nurture good candidates, keeping local government vibrant and successful.

The Local Government Association is here to help you.

LGA annual conference and exhibition

Last week many of our members were in Bournemouth for the LGA’s annual conference, including our AGM and annual dinner. The event bought 1,400 councillors and officers together for a busy agenda of world class speakers, innovative workshops, networking and seminars. We were joined at our sessions by Lord Victor Adebowale CBE and Professor Kevin Fenton, who delivered an impactful presentation on the importance of housing and public health in everything we do.

Meanwhile, Members at the LGA General Assembly approved a Motion regarding the UN Sustainable Development Goals and declared a climate emergency, a movement led by our Green members in Bristol. Now over 100 councils have declared an emergency with more to follow in the coming weeks. You can read the full text of the agreed Motion, including the LGA response provided at the meeting. It may be useful to use this in your local discussions as they develop.

Next Generation Programme: applications now open

Applications are now open for our sixth Next Generation Programme for aspiring leaders. The deadline for applications is 16 August. You will need to commit to attending all three modules, taking place from 12pm on Friday, and 4pm on Saturday on the 27/28 September, 22/23 November, 24/25 January.

Apply now

There are also LGA programmes available for leaders, cabinet leads and other leading members including sessions on finance, scrutiny and health. Find out more about the LGA’s member support offer.

Independent councillors questionnaire

Following Independent member success in the May elections the office have received a lot of interest from journalists and researchers wanting to know more about what Independents stand for and whether we really are seeing a shift in the way the public perceive and interact with politics.

One such request has come through from the University of Suffolk School of Law and Social Sciences who are inviting Independent members to complete a short survey to help with their research to understand more about the motivations, activities and political background of Independent Councillors. This research will really help us to dispel some myths and raise awareness of Independents as an effective, lasting and impactful force within local and national decision making.

Building from the May local elections

Finally, I wanted to reflect on our Group’s success in May, when we gained over 700 seats compared to the previous round of elections in 2015. Our members are now in the administration of 68 councils, with 33 having Independent Group Leaders.

There is only one thing more scary to a traditional party candidate than an Independent, and that is an organised Independent with a network of support. The same goes for our party members, who do not have the machinery behind them that the bigger Westminster parties do.

We have been smothered by big party blankets which have now slipped. But we had the foundation of good people, nurtured and in place, ready to stand as candidates, ready to get elected and ready to become the excellent councillors that our residents deserve. Whether registered as a local party or not, these local networks of support are vital to get plenty of new members elected and to stay elected.

Many Independents fiercely retain the right to speak and vote independently, making sure they are thinking and acting directly on behalf of residents. They are not following anyone else's agenda. Instead they are focused on listening to local residents and doing their best to inspire and work together to improve their community. But we are not isolated and work together to get some big successes. Because we are focusing on the best outcomes for residents, we can work well cross party on an agreed agenda.

There is always a risk of being seen to be too close to a big party leader, one which our members in no overall control have all had to weigh up. Being seen as in collaboration or really a party member underneath, implies not an Independent, but really a second class party member, and then why would anyone not just vote for the party instead? Thus it’s important that a free and separate voice has to be retained, so as to avoid being subsumed into someone else’s party machine. The right to campaign openly for what we believe in has to be sacrosanct, intrinsic to the very nature of an Independent.

Being told that we are really a something party underneath, is not a compliment. It is a way of entirely undermining our Independence, and leading us by the nose into the party shed. No, we are fiercely independent, working together, but always free to think about and represent our residents. We need to be good at communicating and team-building to develop mutual respect and enjoyment in working together. Social “glue” and mutual support gives our elected members the confidence and inspiration to perform at their very best for residents.

Being well in touch with our communities, our leaflets are packed not just with personal achievements with the community, but also with plenty of vision and ideas of what else can be done. So voters know what you are getting - a determined local champion. For example, across the country we are working on new or improved local facilities, village halls, bowling greens, play areas, village swimming pools, better roads, and refurbishment of our canals and rivers to increase use and rich in wildlife. We are supporting heritage facilities and grants, improving high streets with increasing shop occupation. We are  fighting to protect and enhance the character and vibrancy of our communities through better planning and good access local services.

Huge challenges face us all, including climate change. We do not have time to waste on playing party politics. We can see the impact of that from the Brexit fiasco, where the focus often seems to slip from getting the best outcomes for residents. Traditionally, the big parties have relied on a "party whip", which means a leader like Theresa May, can make a decision, and expect votes of support to be rounded up, regardless of her own leadership magnetism. Now we can all see that isn’t working. Instead, our members rely on conviction politics, building consensus, based on the facts and a clear determination to get the best outcomes for residents. When we work together, we succeed.

Local decision-making of priorities, neighbourhood planning and local initiatives will continue to be at the heart of what makes our communities such great places to live. Local councillors are critical to our future, and I believe, it is Independent group councillors without a party whip, who are best placed to listen and lead our future communities.

I am honoured to continue leading this Group as we continue to make waves locally and nationally and look forward to a busy and effective term ahead.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Marianne Overton MBE signature
Councillor Marianne Overton MBE

Councillor Marianne Overton MBE
Leader of the Independent Group
Vice Chair of the Local Government Association