Top Tory enters election race for Local Government Association role

He's one of more colourful politicians in the often grey suited world of East Midlands' local government. Now he's pitching his approach to a much bigger stage. David Parsons is the leader of Leicestershire County Council.

A Conservative, he built up his reputation as chairman of the now defunct East Midlands Regional Assembly.

He still maintains a strong regional platform as the leader of the new East Midlands Councils, the body that brings together strange ideological bed-fellows - Jon Collins, Labour's champion on Nottingham City, and Nottinghamshire County Hall Thatcherite Kay Cutts.

Image caption David Parsons has published his manifesto

His widely acknowledged skill is bringing together politicians from different parties to effectively lobby Whitehall and Brussels.

Now he plans to envelope his political "Big Tent" around the Local Government Association (LGA), the national body that speak up for our town halls.

David Parsons has announced he's to run in the election to become chairman of the LGA. It's a big role and he'll face a strong challenge from other candidates.

The LGA's electoral college system means the bigger councils have more electoral college votes; David Parsons has done his homework.

"I've got the support of the Midlands, the South West and the North. It's now about winning over backing from the south," he told me.


His manifesto sets out a change agenda and some classic Conservative rhetoric.

"I stand for a new approach to local government. To change and break from the past.

"My pledge to the public is that the leadership of local government is at one with the government in its absolute focus on value for money. We should not tolerate poor service or high charges.

"I will urge a return to middle England common sense in town halls."

That "middle England" approach includes squeezing local government executive pay, an assault on what he calls ludicrous political correctness - "Give me six bin men, and not a 'director of place shaping' on £140,000" - and greater devolution of LGA functions.

There's a hint of his style in his leadership of Leicestershire. He's a pioneer of "Total Place" thinking; that is merging public sector operations in local areas. His county council's human resources and finance teams have already merged with Labour-run Nottingham.

He argues it provides better value for money and protects key front-line services.

That underpins his thinking of the future role of the LGA and how to deal with the political heat on local councillors facing difficult decisions on budgets.

"There needs to be a rapid response advice team to provide a hotline to councillors and officers seeking guidance," he said.

Closer Whitehall links

If elected, David Parsons will serve a three-year term. It's a period in which local government will have even further cuts to its budgets and demands to rethink service delivery.

"It really is up to the LGA chairman to build up links with Whitehall, not with only Eric Pickles and his team, but in other ministries where we need to push for greater access in education and health," he said.

"But I won't be a slave to the government and I won't be a slave to local authorities. But if there is a good case, I have a good track record of getting money out of government."

But as services are merged and local government gets smaller, is there a case for taking an axe to the number of councils? No, he says. He's not in favour of reducing democratic accountability and control.

Image caption Parsons hopes to be become LGA king of the castle

Now 60, his early taste of town hall politics was in Bristol until he moved to Leicestershire, where he became the county's Tory leader in 2003.

"My own philosophy of Conservatism is that it's the most efficient way of running an economy and from that you produce the public services we can be proud of," he added.

David Parsons represents the Leicester suburban village of Kirby-Muxloe. It's best known locally for its romantic ruin of a medieval castle. Its 15th Century lord of manor, William Lord Hastings backed the wrong side and was beheaded for his troubles.

David Parsons is far more politically astute.

This "King" of Kirby-Muxloe has got his political head well and truly screwed on. Away from politics, his big interest is in cartography. He's now mapping a much bigger stage for his very own Parsons Project.

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