United Kingdom Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues
Organization: Conservative Party (UK)
Date of Birth: 20 April 1952
Age: 70 years old
Place of Birth: Keighley, England
Eric Jack Pickles, Baron Pickles, Kt, PC (born 20 April 1952) is a British Conservative Party politician who served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Brentwood and Ongar from 1992 to 2017. He served in David Cameron's Cabinet as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government from 2010 to 2015. He previously served as Chairman of the Conservative Party from 2009 to 2010 and was later the United Kingdom Anti-Corruption Champion from 2015 to 2017.
Pickles is the UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues, being appointed in 2015. He stood down as an MP at the 2017 general election, but has continued in his role as Special Envoy under Prime Ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson. He is currently the chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel in the House of Lords.
Eric Jack Pickles was born on 20 April 1952, the son of Jack and Constance Pickles. Born in Keighley, West Riding of Yorkshire, he attended Greenhead Grammar School (now University Academy Keighley) and then studied at Leeds Polytechnic. He was born into a Labour-supporting family – his great grandfather was one of the founders of the Independent Labour Party, and Pickles described himself as "massively inclined" towards communism as a boy.
After the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, he joined the local Keighley Branch of the Young Conservatives in 1968, later commenting "I joined because of the invasion of Czechoslovakia. I was so shocked by the tanks. It was not the best way of fighting Brezhnev, but it made me feel better".
Pickles soon became the chairman of the local Young Conservatives association. During his time in the Young Conservatives he became a member of the Joint Committee Against Racism from 1982 to 1987 and later became its chairman. His period as national Young Conservative chairman saw growing factionalism with challenges from a southern-based right wing to Pickles' moderate leadership. Pickles also moved against right-wingers in Bradford, expelling the Young Conservative, Yorkshire Chairman of the Monday Club who had stood for the Bradford Wyke Ward on an anti-immigrant platform from the Bradford area constituencies.
Pickles was first elected to Bradford Council in 1979, representing the Worth Valley ward. From 1982 to 1984, he chaired that Council's Social Services Committee, and then, from 1984 to 1986, he chaired the Education Committee. Between 1988 and 1990, he served as leader of the Conservative group on the council. In September 1988 the Conservative Party gained control by using the Conservative mayor's casting vote to become the only inner-city council to be controlled by the Conservatives.
When Bradford Council was hung, Pickles opted to break the agreement that the position of Lord Mayor is rotated between the parties, when he put a Conservative mayor in place again. This effectively gave the Conservatives a majority due to the Lord Mayor's casting vote. To do this, they also broke the tradition that the Lord Mayor kept the status quo.
Whilst at Bradford, Pickles announced a five-year plan to cut the council's budget by £50m, reduce the workforce by a third, privatise services and undertake council departmental restructures, many of which proved controversial. A book, The Pickles Papers, by Tony Grogan, was written about this period in Pickles' life.
Pickles was elected as Member of Parliament for Brentwood and Ongar in 1992. He was the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in the coalition government headed by Prime Minister David Cameron until May 2015, following his appointment to the role on 12 May 2010. Previously he had served as Chairman of the Conservative Party from January 2009 to May 2010 and Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, having held that post since June 2007. Prior to this he served as Shadow Minister for Local Government from June 2002. Before that Pickles was Shadow Minister for Transport (September 2001 – June 2002) and Shadow Minister for London.
At the 2001 general election, the independent candidate Martin Bell, who was the MP for Tatton, having run a campaign of "anti-sleaze", stood against Pickles due to accusations that the Peniel Pentecostal Church had infiltrated the local Conservative branch. Pickles's vote was reduced from 45.4% to 38%, but he retained his seat by a margin of 2,821 votes (6.5%) becoming elected with 38% of the votes against Bell's 31.5%.
At the 2005 general election Pickles retained the seat with 53.5% of the votes and an increased majority of 11,612 (26.3%), nearly as many as the number of votes for the second-place candidate, and making this the second-safest seat in Eastern England, and Pickles the MP with the third-highest share of the vote cast in this region.
On 2 July 2007, David Cameron appointed Pickles to a reshuffled Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary. On 30 December 2008, according to reports in The Times, Pickles unveiled plans to "purge town hall 'fat cats'". The Times reported that under the plans "dozens of council chiefs who earn more than Cabinet ministers would lose their jobs as clusters of councils merged their frontline services and backroom operations to provide better value for money." Of the eight highest-earning chief executives listed in The Times' report, six were employed by councils run by the Conservative party, one by Labour and one by the Liberal Democrats.
Pickles was the campaign manager for the successful Crewe and Nantwich by-election in May 2008. Following this, he was promoted to chairman of the Conservative Party in January 2009.
In early 2010, Pickles defended the first-past-the-post voting system as resulting in stable government. He attacked Prime Minister Gordon Brown saying he "now wants to fiddle the electoral system" by wanting to change the voting system.
Although a former Eurosceptic, Pickles became in January 2016 a founding member of Conservatives For Reform In Europe, a campaign to remain in the European Union on the basis that the EU would be reformed by the negotiations then being led by Prime Minister David Cameron.
In April 2017, Pickles announced he would not stand at the general election the following month. Later that year, he was appointed chairman of the journal Parliamentary Review.
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Pickles was appointed as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government as part of David Cameron's new coalition Government on 12 May 2010, and sworn as a Privy Counsellor on 13 May 2010.
In his role as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, on 30 July 2010, Pickles announced plans to hand powers where ministers can cap what they deem to be unreasonable increases in council taxes to local people. A consultation began in August 2010 and the powers, which will require legislation, should be in force by March 2012.[needs update] Pickles said he was determined to reverse the presumption that Whitehall knows best by making local councils directly accountable to the local taxpayer. He said: "If councils want to increase council tax further, they will have to prove the case to the electorate. Let the people decide". Residents would be asked to choose between accepting the rise or rejecting it and instead accepting a below inflation rise, but with reduced council services. The average council tax on a Band D property increased from £688 a year in 1997/98 to £1,439 for 2010.
Pickles is a figure who does not shun controversy. In The Observer, Will Hutton appraised his role with regard to local government as follows: "Local government minister Eric Pickles has colluded cheerfully with George Osborne to knock local government back to being no more than rat catchers and managers of street lighting. Indeed, they scarcely give them the funds to carry out these activities".
In December 2014, asked in Parliament if people who left their wheelie bins in the street after a collection should be punished, he said they should be flogged -though he also said flogging was too good for them and that leaving the bin in the middle of the road was poor behaviour.
The Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal was unearthed during Pickles' tenure, and in February 2015 he announced a strategy to implement commissioners at Rotherham Council in the wake of the Casey Report, which had been commissioned in 2014 to investigate child sex abuse in Rotherham. Seven councillors resigned as a result of the damning report, which revealed that the local authority was "wholly dysfunctional" and that the failure to protect 1,400 girls from sexual abuse was a result of "complacency, institutionalised political correctness" and "blatant failures of political and officer leadership".
Pickles was responsible for the Localism Act 2011 that changed the powers of local government in England. The measures affected by the Act include more elected mayors and referendums. The Localism Act opens with Part 1, Chapter 1(1), under the heading "Local authority's general power of competence", "A local council has power to do anything that individuals generally may do".
The bill was introduced by Pickles, and given its first reading on 13 December 2010. The Bill completed the third reading in the House of Lords on 31 October 2011. The bill received Royal Assent on 15 November 2011.
The bill was quickly undermined, however, after it was published on 13 December. One of the claims made for it is that it would "give local communities real control over housing and planning decisions", but on the same day, Pickles issued a decision in a planning appeal. The National Grid had applied to Tewkesbury Borough Council to build a gas plant just outside Tirley in Gloucestershire. The installation would occupy more than 16 acres and the application had been opposed by more than 1,000 residents in a sparsely populated rural area, by 12 parish councils and by every member of the planning committee of the local planning authority. Rejecting the local opposition, Pickles chose to grant permission to build the gas plant.
In April 2014, South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon welcomed the decision that Pickles and the DCLG would have final say over the building of wind turbines. By June 2014, Pickles had intervened on 12 windfarm projects and rejected 10 of them, against the recommendations from planning inspectors, rising to 50 rejections by October 2014.
On 10 February 2012, the National Secular Society obtained a High Court judicial review of the Christian prayers held during meetings in council chambers, which non-Christian councillors were forced to attend as prayers formed part of the formal agenda and councillors are obliged to attend for the duration of the formal agenda. Mr Justice Ouseley ruled: "The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is not lawful under s111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue. I do not think the 1972 Act should be interpreted as permitting the religious views of one group of councillors, however sincere or large in number, to exclude, or even to a modest extent, to impose burdens on or even to mark out those who do not share their views and do not wish to participate in their expression of them. They are all equally elected councillors".
Although Mr Justice Ouseley said prayers were permitted to be held before the start of the formal agenda, Eric Pickles vowed to reverse the High Court decision, despite a recent Yougov poll showing 55% were against councils holding prayers with just 26% in favour. Eric Pickles brought forward his Localism Act, due to become law in April 2012, and made it law on 17 February 2012 claiming he is 'effectively reversing' the High Court decision.
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, commented "A number of senior lawyers have expressed doubt whether the Localism Act will, as Mr Pickles hopes, make prayers lawful, and the Act was clearly not passed with that express intention. His powers to pass legislation are not, as he implies, untrammelled. Council prayers increasingly look set to become a battle between the Government and the courts at ever higher levels". The Localism Act permits local government councils to do anything that is not forbidden. Eric Pickles has written to all local government councils encouraging them to continue with prayers in council meetings. In April 2013, referring to the issue of prayers in council meetings, Pickles said in a speech at the Conservative Spring Forum that "militant atheists" should accept that Britain is a Christian country.
Pickles led the Troubled Families Programme designed to turn around 120,000 dysfunctional families responsible, at a cost of around £400 million. According to David Cameron, these families were responsible for 'a large proportion of the problems in society'. The families were selected for having 5 of 7 measures of social and economic deprivation. Pickles claimed repeatedly that these families cost the state £9 billion per annum. In March 2015 Pickles declared the programme a 'triumph' in the House of Commons after it allegedly 'turned around' 105,600 families of 117,910 processed and saved £1.2 billion per annum. £1.2 billion per annum was a hypothetical number based on assumptions that alleged improvements in behaviour would be sustained and depended on removing the high costs associated with disabled children and chronically sick, unemployed adults.
The Evaluation by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research was published on 17 October 2016. The report found that there had been "no significant impact" of the scheme. A press release from NIESR stated, "we were unable to find consistent evidence that the programme had any significant or systematic impact". The Times reported the following day, "the report was published quietly last night after complaints from Whitehall insiders that it was being suppressed".
The Public Accounts Committee published its report on 19 December 2016. They concluded that the delay in publication had been unacceptable, that DCLG had failed to demonstrate that the programme had any significant impact and that the terminology of saying that the families had been "turned around" was misleading given that many of the families had continuing problems after a result had been claimed. The PAC chairwoman, Meg Hillier, commented that the report was "far more serious" than "a slap on the wrist" for ministers.
Flooding of the Somerset Levels
From December 2013 onwards the Somerset Levels suffered severe flooding as part of the wider 2013-2014 Atlantic winter storms in Europe and subsequent 2013–2014 United Kingdom winter floods.
There were public calls for the rivers Parrett and Tone, in particular, to be dredged. The Environment Agency was blamed for not having dredged the major river channels of the Levels. The Environment Agency and others pointed out that it would be more effective to spend money on delaying floodwaters upstream, and that increasing the capacity of rivers by dredging would be of no significant use; the Environment Secretary defended the Agency. Roger Falconer, Professor of Water Management at Cardiff University, and other hydrologists made clear that dredging did not offer a useful solution to flooding on the Somerset Levels.
On 7 February, the Environment Secretary needed an urgent operation and handed over the flood management to Eric Pickles. Pickles then appeared on The Andrew Marr Show and apologised "unreservedly" for not dredging the Somerset Levels and said that "the government may have relied too much on the advice" of the Environment Agency. The head of the Environment Agency Lord Chris Smith rejected the criticism of his organisation. The Environment Secretary protested in the strongest possible terms to the Prime Minister about Pickles' "grandstanding".
Pickles is a self-proclaimed flag enthusiast, and took a personal interest in ensuring that English county flags be regularly flown from the Department for Communities and Local Government. He has urged people to fly the St George Cross of England more widely for St. George's Day and encouraged public bodies to adopt a common-sense approach to flying the flag. On 14 May 2011, at the Flag Institute spring meeting, Pickles announced a consultation aimed at "Making it easier for people to celebrate an identity or an organisation that means something to them".
On 26 March 2009, Pickles appeared on the political debate programme Question Time in Newcastle. While discussing the controversy over Tony McNulty (who had recently admitted claiming expenses on a second home, occupied by his parents, only 8 miles away from his primary residence), Pickles admitted he claimed a second home allowance because he lived 37 miles from Westminster and needed to leave his constituency house in Brentwood at 5.30 am to get to Westminster for 9.30 am, given that he tended to get home at midnight or 1 am, although the standard time for commuters from this region is usually ninety minutes. He went on to say that it was "no fun" commuting into London from where he lived. In response to Pickles's comments that he "had to be there [the House of Commons] on time", Question Time host David Dimbleby, replied "Like a job, in other words?" and fellow panellist Caroline Lucas added 'welcome to the real world', both of which prompted amusement and applause amongst the audience.
Pickles was asked to pay back £300 following the MP's expenses scandal, which he had claimed for cleaning.
Grenfell Tower Inquiry controversy
On 7 April 2022, Pickles was giving evidence to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry based on his experience as Secretary of State for Housing from 2010 to 2015. He went on to challenge the inquiry not to waste his time while giving evidence, before getting the death toll from the disaster wrong. He later apologised, claiming he "misspoke".
Pickles married Irene Coates in 1976 in Staincliffe, a district of Batley in West Yorkshire.
Eric Pickles was sworn in as a member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council in 2010. This gave him the Honorific Prefix "The Right Honorable" and after Ennoblement the Post Nominal Letters "PC" for Life.
On 22 May 2015 it was announced that Pickles was to be appointed a Knight Bachelor.
He was nominated for a Life Peerage by Theresa May on 18 May 2018. On 18 June 2018 he was created Baron Pickles, of Brentwood and Ongar in the County of Essex. He sits with the Conservative Party Benches in the House of Lords.
Eric Pickles (1952–1992)
Eric Pickles MP (1992–2010)
The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP (2010–2015)
The Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles MP (2015–2017)
The Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles (2017–2018)
The Rt Hon The Lord Pickles Kt PC (2018–present)
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