Simon Hoare is the new Minister for Local Government: officially the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
‘I’d not long arrived at my flat in London, and was just warming up some soup when the phone rang,’ he says. ‘I saw it was the Chief Whip, and obviously my first thought was “what have I done now?”
‘But he simply said “The PM would like to know if you want to join the front benches.” Obviously the correct second thought is then “Doing what?!”
‘He then offered me the position of Minister for Local Government, and I had a quick yes-or-no decision to make. Obviously I said yes – but then had to ask “so what happens now?” It’s a massive honour – of course it is – but it’s also new to me. I had no clue what the protocol is. No one prepares you for it!
‘I had two calls in fairly rapid succession – the first was from the Propriety and Ethics team who asked all manner of interesting questions about whether I had been a terrorist, or had ever been convicted of money laundering and the like. Having passed that one with flying colours – I’ve had a rather dull existence, apparently – I was called by the Permanent Secretary to confirm the appointment, and to let me know my Private Secretary would be waiting for me at the Houses of Parliament at 9.15 the following morning.
‘And sure enough, there he was, waiting in the foyer with my badge. He took me to my office which already had my name on the door, the computer was already set up for me, as was a diary already full of appointments. People talk about hitting the ground running, but I’m not sure I’d really done it at such speed before!
‘In theory I know that as soon as the King approves the appointment, you’re it, effectively. But when it actually happens, the sheer speed of it is astonishing. It wasn’t until two hours after the first phone call that I realised I probably ought to call my wife!
‘The whole thing takes some getting used to. I was in a meeting this week and was presented with three possible options for a course of action. I suggested that one was the right way to go, and a few notes were taken. I then asked how we might progress that, who it needed to be passed through or get approval from, and I was met with a slightly surprised face. Turns out my decision had just allocated £190m. That’s how it works.
‘I do have to say a word about the efficiency of the civil servants, who have met me with overwhelming warmth, help and kindness at every step. And I have been touched by the number of colleagues from right across the House who have congratulated me – it’s such an encouragement when even the opposition say ‘it’s about time’ instead of ‘why on earth?’… I must be doing something right!’
Simon started his political career as a parish councillor, before becoming an elected local councillor for 12 years. He’s confident that with his experience of working in local government he has an excellent understanding of his brief.
‘It’s hugely, hugely exciting, and I’m keen for the challenge – I think we all as human beings enjoy being stretched. To be honest I still get a thrill just parking my buttocks on the back benches. Now I’ve a front row seat. And I have to admit, the House looks completely different from down there. Instead of looking down on it from up at the back, I’m inside it. It’s much smaller and far more intimate.’
North Dorset first
‘But I cannot forget that I am only here to do this job because I was first elected by the people of North Dorset and my first duty of care always has been and always will be to them.
In France, a civil servant is placed into a constituency when an MP is promoted, to look after matters previously in his care. But we don’t do that in England, and rightly so. I think it is so important to stay anchored and connected with your base, it’s enormously important in everything we do.’
But what exactly is the Minister for Local Government actually responsible for? What will the new job entail?
‘It’s a vast remit – I’m now responsible to Parliament for local funding, special educational needs – in partnership with the DoE of course – adult social care, planning, alongside the planning minister, election law (ensuring systems are in place to guarantee public confidence in a democratic vote, preventing any “we was robbed/it was rigged” shenanigans in the UK!). I’m also the minister for the Covid inquiry and the Commons minister for faith, which means I’ll be taking through the Holocaust Memorial Bill.
Today I’m in a Westminster Hall debate on heritage pubs, and later have a meeting about local government funding on the Isle of Wight.
‘But I like to be busy! The devil makes work for idle hands and all that. I think we all like to be busy, don’t we? Just as long as we get tangible results.’