Letter from PM to Ruth Kelly

Appointment: Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Thank you for accepting the new post of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I am writing to set out the challenges ahead for Government and in particular for your new Department.

As a Government the key overarching domestic challenges for us are: to build on our unprecedented record of economic achievement ensuring our country can compete and win in the global knowledge economy, to take key decisions in the coming period to ensure the long term security and prosperity of our country and its people, to sustain the momentum of public service modernisation showing how investment and the programme of reform is delivering real improvements for ordinary hard working families; and to underline our Government’s commitment to social justice through policies to expand opportunity and tackle the most deep seated causes and symptoms of social exclusion.

Given this context, I am therefore asking all Secretaries of State to identify the key challenges for their Departments and how they propose to deliver against these.

For the new Department for Communities and Local Government my priorities are as follows.
First, I have, as you know, decided to bring together for the first time responsibilities for local government, social exclusion and neighbourhood renewal which your department already had, with new responsibilities for communities, race, faith, and equalities. Bringing these responsibilities together will allow you to develop the important themes of social mobility and economic inclusion that I know you advanced at DfES. The new and enhanced role for your Department provides a unique opportunity to address some of the most pressing challenges that our country faces, including globalization, security and democratic renewal:

We need to ensure that local communities have the powers they need to respond to challenging economic, social and cultural trends, and to create cohesive, thriving, sustainable communities capable of both fulfilling their own potential and of overcoming their own difficulties, including community conflict, deprivation and disadvantage. Interventions like neighbourhood wardens show how we can be successful at a local level in bringing communities together. Empowering local communities is central to achieving our wider objective of democratic renewal.

In particular, local communities need to be able to challenge robustly the ideas of those extremists who seek to undermine our way of life. I would like you to work closely with the Home Office and other Departments on this issue and to chair the Commission on Integration and Cohesion that I announced last year.

Your department should have the important goal of ensuring that all citizens and communities share in the benefits of economic growth, with economically strong cities and regions driving national prosperity.

And I would also like us to have an early discussion with Hilary Armstrong on how to build on the major contribution your department is already making to the cross-cutting challenges of tackling social exclusion and developing the role of the voluntary sector.

Secondly, I would like you to continue the excellent work that John Prescott and David Miliband had begun on local government reform. I believe the new and expanded role for the department will help you bring this work to a successful conclusion. I would like to see a radical, devolutionary White Paper and subsequent Bill, with more powers for local neighbourhoods and new models of accountability and leadership, including mayors. Working with Sir Michael Lyons, you will also need to deliver a practical, workable solution for local government finance in the CSR.

Thirdly, you will need to deliver the Government’s policy in response to the Barker review of housing supply. Helping hard working families and first time buyers get their foot on their housing ladder should be a key priority.

Fourthly, I want you to build on the work Kate Barker is now doing on land use planning to identify further proposals for reform of the planning system. Ensuring that planning achieves the right balance between supporting economic growth and delivering sustainable development is a key long-term challenge. I would like you to work with Alistair Darling and Douglas Alexander on this, as the Energy Review and Rod Eddington’s transport work will be relevant for your work on planning.
Finally, I am also pleased that you are taking on the key role of Minister for Women. The Women and Work Commission report highlighted the progress we have made in tackling gender inequality, but also pointed to continued challenges. I would like you to produce an ambitious action plan in response to the Commission’s recommendations.

By the end of June, I would welcome your preliminary assessment of key challenges across your Department, including the key milestones and risks in each area, and the main actions you propose to meet these challenges. As a first step, I would be grateful if you come back to me by the end of May on how you have allocated responsibility for key issues and objectives among your Ministerial team. I am keen that we make the very best use of our excellent team in Government.

Your plans will, of course, need to be set against the background of lower growth in funding than in recent years. This means the Zero Based and Efficiency Reviews currently underway, combined with Departmental Capability Reviews, will be a critical input, and I would like you to give these your personal attention to ensure that the department’s spending is effective and fit for purpose as we move forward.

Thank you again for accepting this important and exciting post. I look forward to discussing it with you.

Text of letter from Prime Minister to Ruth Kelly on 9 May 2006.

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