Daring to be Different - Annual Report 2021/22


Group leader’s year in review

Councillor Marianne Overton MBE

 

marianne_overton

Leader of the LGA Independent Group
Vice-Chairman of the Local Government Association
Lincolnshire County Council and North Kesteven District Council

In an incredibly challenging year for local government, the country, and the world; our Independent Group members have worked solidly in our communities, our councils, and through the Local Government Association (LGA), working with ministers to improve what we can do back on the ground.

Disease: at the start of spring 2021, we were just beginning the ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, but with continuing high rates of COVID-19 across the country and, unknown at the time, the future emergence of the contagious Omicron variant. It is testament to our councils that our local people and places have been able to emerge from this global pandemic and pick up their lives.

War: then, we had the devastating news that Russia had invaded Ukraine. Our councils have been incredible in showing support for Ukraine, with some of our members making multiple journeys to Ukraine to deliver aid. This is in addition to supporting the arrivals from Afghanistan fleeing the Taliban once allied forces had left.

Fuel famine: we are now facing the challenge of the astounding increases in the cost of living, with energy costs quadrupling overnight, food prices continually rising and the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rising by 9 per cent in the 12 months to April 2022. Our councillors have been supporting our residents to cope with this rise in costs and are grappling with the challenge of rising costs within their own councils. We continue to call for greater investment in retro-fit, energy efficiency and renewables to protect our residents from these price shocks. We should be focused on using less energy and derived from sustainable sources, rather than handing out money to residents struggling to heat and power their homes because the pounds simply fly out the windows, doors and walls.

On the plus side: thankfully, last year we also saw children back in schools continuing their education, families able to meet at Christmas, and business re-opening. Leading members at the LGA and council leaders continued to regularly meet ministers on how to safely bring the country out of lockdown. The success of the vaccine and vaccine booster programmes was due to many partnerships working together, particularly the NHS and local government. We also saw a coming together of communities leading up to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

So much public goodwill. It was therefore disappointing to see from the Sue Gray report that the Prime Minister and colleagues were fined for breaking their own laws in events they said had not happened, leading to questions over integrity.

COP 26: a highlight was speaking on your behalf at COP 26 in Glasgow, heartened by many coming together and agreeing on the imperative to tackle climate change. We worked cross-country with amendments and did improve the final agreement, COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact. This committed to keeping climate change below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the ‘safe’ global temperature rise, described by the latest sixth IPCC report. although the risk of rising above the of 1.5 degrees centigrade is now looking a lot more likely. I know that our councils and councillors across the country are continuing to make the case for real local action that makes a measurable difference to our environment and our future.

Civility: we have also focussed this year civility in public office and on the safety of elected members and their families. As co-chair of the LGA’s Civility in Public Life Steering Group, I work with the LGA on promoting the safety of all councillors and that we need to ‘debate not hate’. The LGA has been shortlisted for an award for its Civility in Public Life campaign, and the winners will be announced during the LGA’s 2022 annual conference.

Finance: our cross-party LGA negotiations with the Treasury required detailed evidence for all our requests and a reasonable settlement overall. However, an increase in national insurance that did not support council care and went instead all to the NHS is short-sighted, when it is timely home care that enables the NHS to cope at all. The additional burden of an £87,000 cap on care adds to the problem and does not tackle the underlying lack of long-term funding. There is more work to do.

Election success: a bumper-set of elections were held in 2021 after elections were unable to be held in May 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Councillors who are part of the LGA’s Independent Group increased their proportion from 15 per cent of all councillors in 2019 to 16.1 per cent of all councillors in 2021 reaching just shy of 3000 councillors and over 3060 in 2022. The ongoing increase in the number of Independent, Green, Plaid Cymru and councillors from smaller parties demonstrates that people are increasingly looking away from the big parties. With more councils being run by independents and Plaid Cymru and more coalitions with independent councillors, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, we are demonstrating that our councillors can deliver. We have kept our lead national peer and our regional peers incredibly busy with change of control and supporting all our councillors take on the challenges that face them. Thank you.

More group successes

Throughout the last year, our councillors have shown admirable leadership, both locally and through the LGA, and this annual report is a testament to our lead members, peers and officers who adjusted quickly and never missed a beat.

We continued to hold many virtual events over the past year, continuing to support our members, but I know many have welcomed being able to meet in person for better working relationships and networks.

Our Think Tanks have been going from strength to strength, bringing members together to discuss a range of issuing including housing, permitted development and the Levelling Up White Paper. Indeed, we were the first political group and organisation to be briefed by lead officers at the LGA on the Levelling Up White Paper.

We held our eighth Next Generation programme, with members meeting in person and virtually. We also supported leading members to attend the Leaders’ Programme and Leadership Academy as well as take up other development opportunities offered.

Ahead of the 2021 elections the office ran a very successful candidate school with over 90 prospective candidates attending.

Our peers also continued to lend their support to members across the country, conducting reviews, being part of the Corporate Peer Challenges, and providing mentoring support and advice.

The group executive have worked well as a team and added strength to our work.

Thank you

It has been another extraordinary year, and the group executive would like to thank all of our councillors, for your resilience, your commitment and your impact. 2021 has seen challenges we couldn’t have foreseen, and our councillors have continued to lead their communities, making a difference and bringing people together. You do a fantastic job and on behalf of the whole group executive, it’s a privilege to work with and represent you at the LGA.

Thank you to my Deputy, Hannah Dalton, Treasurer Paul Woodhead and executive members who represent our regions and drive our activity.

Thank you to our peers and lead members for your thoughtful contributions and leadership on our boards, on top of local commitments.

To our council leaders, deputy leaders and portfolio holders, it is extraordinary how many councils are now being led by leaders who are part of the LGA Independent Group, and better for it. This year has been extremely challenging, and it is humbling to see the work you’ve done for your communities and the country as a whole. 

I’d like to give a special thanks to Sarah Woodhouse who was our Head of the Independent Group Office for four years and left to spend more time with her family and explore new challenges in January of this year. I’d like to thank Abigail Gallop, our new Head of Group Office, and Noleen Rosen and Aimee Wittam-Smith for their work this year.

Working together through the LGA we have made a huge difference as always, focused on the things that unite us: our residents and our planet. 

I wish you every success in the year ahead

Be a Councillor and think tanks

Councillor Hannah Dalton

hannah_dalton

Deputy Leader of the LGA Independent Group
Epsom and Ewell Council

Following the popularity of the first LGA Independent Group Candidate School last year, this year’s programme ran again from Autumn 2021 to Spring 2022. We hosted six virtual workshops and a day of in-person workshops at the LGA offices in Westminster. Overall, the events were attended by an average of 25 prospective candidates per event. The May 2022 elections saw some successes and we now welcome those successful candidates to the LGA Independent Group. 

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to the Independent Group councillors who volunteered to facilitate sessions on social media, canvassing, starting a political party, getting elected at a new unitary authority and more. 

We supported local events for independent groups in Havering and Caerphilly, as well as supporting some candidates in London who themselves set up a network for independent candidates in London and held several events both virtually and in-person. 

We have been strengthening our relationship with other organisations such as Elect Her and Vocal Communities. Aimee Wittams-Smith from the Group Office and I were invited to a virtual event hosted by Elect Her to speak to women considering standing for election. Vocal Communities also worked with the office ahead of their launch event, which was attended by Councillor Marianne Overton as a panellist. 

LGA Independent Group Budget Report

Councillor Paul Woodhead

paul_woodhead

Cannock Chase District Council
Elected Group Treasurer

Treasurer’s report 2021/22

In the period April 2021 – March 2022 the IG spent £11,372 of our £25,228 budget.

The LGA allowed an underspend because of the Covid restrictions meaning virtual meetings and events and less travel.

We spent money on: 

  • Comms and engagement survey – setting up a working group to take forward
  • Residents satisfaction survey – which found that although 74 per cent of respondents said they had not voted for an Independent candidate in previous elections, 51 per cent said they would vote for an Independent candidate in a future local election.
  • Climate Change event
  • Away day for the Executive
  • Hosting some meetings and events

Looking forward to the forthcoming year, we have an increased budget availability of £30,695 for the year. This will cover our annual conference in the Autumn, member meetings and events, regional meetings, workshops and training, social media, resource development and some research. We are planning on additional research on Electric car charging points infrastructure, Levelling up and planning and the application of the code of conduct and whether more is needed to ensure appropriateness and consistency.

An update from our national lead member peer

Councillor Mike Haines 

Teignbridge District Council 
National Lead Member Peer 

Independent Group peers give support and advice to our members across England. This year, we welcomed two new regional peers, Councillors Jo Beavis and Zoe Nicholson, but said goodbye to Councillor Alan who stepped down as a councillor at the end of 2021, after more than six years as a peer. I temporarily picked up Councillor Alan’s regions, but the intention is to appoint a replacement peer for those regions in September 2022. In September 2021 we had the following regional lead peers:

  • Councillor Mike Haines − National Lead Peer, and Regional Peer: South West
  • Councillor Jo Beavis − Regional Lead Peer: East England and East Midlands
  • Councillor Andrew Cooper − Regional Lead Peer: Green Members
  • Councillor Paul Cullen − Regional Lead Peer: North East and Yorkshire and Humberside
  • Councillor Zoe Nicholson − Regional Lead Peer: Green Members
  • Councillor Alan Seldon − Regional Lead Peer: West Midlands and North West
  • Councillor Linda Van de Hende − Regional Lead Peer: South East and London

At a regional level, our work has included providing support for lone members; helping to resolve ongoing disagreements; advice to group members where there has been a change of control; leadership support and mentoring; advice on policy issues and advice on protocols. There have been virtual/hybrid meetings for peers as part of the LGA’s sector improvement discussions, and whilst this has not always been as good as face-to-face meetings, things are gradually returning to a pre-COVID arrangement. Our peers have also attended various development events held on Zoom, along with the LGA’s virtual peer conference, which this year included climate emergency, COVID recovery and personal safety.

In addition to our regional peers, we have a strong pool of 44 member peers who have supported councillors in various ways. This year, peers have undertaken five corporate peer challenges, one recovery and renewal panel, one planning policy and planning application, one planning peer challenge and one strategic care and health peer challenge. The team have provided one-to-one mentoring support and advice in areas including budget setting, social care and regeneration, as well as co-facilitating workshops on issues such as prevention and health, personal safety, finance, children’s services, planning, governance support, climate change, finance and new councillor inductions.

Next Generation

I helped facilitate the Independent Group’s eighth ‘Next Generation’ programme for future leaders. These programmes do benefit from being held in person, and we only had to hold two of the modules virtually this year and managed to hold one module together in Birmingham. The feedback from this was once again encouraging, and it is good to see many former participants go on to leadership roles within their councils and at the LGA.

Corporate Peer Challenge

One of the key benefits of LGA membership continues to be the sector-led support on offer, including the Corporate Peer Challenge (CPC). I would encourage all councillors to check whether their council has had a CPC in the last five years and if not, request one via your leader or chief executive.

Looking forward

We are always keen to do more, and we continue to receive many requests for peer support, via the group and the LGA more widely.

If you are interested in receiving support from any of our member peers or would like to become a peer, please contact: Abigail Gallop, Head of the LGA Independent Group Office, or Noleen Rosen, Political Assistant and Peer Manager.

LGA Fire Services Management Committee

Councillor Ian Stephens

 

ian_stephens

Isle of Wight Council
Chair, LGA Fire Services Management Committee 

It has been a busy year for the Fire Services Management Committee (FSMC). The much-anticipated Fire Reform White Paper was published on 18 May, but the very recent publication has not stopped the board’s proactive work.

Fit for the Future initiative

Throughout the year the National Employers (England), the National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC) and the LGA have continued to work collaboratively, and in partnership on the Fit for the Future initiative (FfF). Engagement exercises on the content of the original document have taken place and the redraft of the document will bring together evidenced-based improvement objectives that set out the future role of the fire and rescue service in England.

Leadership Essentials

Training and member development remained a key priority for FSMC throughout the pandemic. The Fire and Rescue Leadership Essentials programme was shifted to a virtual model with Fire and Rescue Authority (FRA) members hearing from various speakers covering topics including: Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) Inspections, Government’s fire reform programme, building safety, diversity and inclusion, and fire governance and leadership. We also delivered governance and leaderships workshops for FRA members focusing on key issues and best practice related to fire governance and leadership.

LGA annual fire conference

The annual LGA fire conference was held in Newcastle in March 2022 and was the first in-person LGA conference held since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. The theme was ‘Delivering transformation’ and over 200 delegates were in attendance. Guest speakers, the Minister of State for Building Safety, Fire and Communities, Lord Stephen Greenhalgh and Sir Thomas Windsor, discussed the Government’s fire reform programme. Plenary sessions focussed on people, efficiency, and effectiveness, whilst workshops looked at sector-led improvement, climate change, EDI in the fire and rescue sector and workforce engagement. The Governance checklist for fire and rescue authorities was also launched during the ‘Effective Scrutiny and Oversight of Fire Services’ workshop.

Review of the role of police and crime commissioners

In July 2021 Government announced part two of the Home Office review into the role of police and crime commissioners (PCCs). The LGA submitted a response to the Giving Police and Crime Commissioners greater powers of competence consultation in September 2021 as part of the review. In this submission, FSMC outlined our support for extending the General Powers of Competence for PCCs and suggested a number of safeguards through police and crime panels.

Fire Standards Board

In December 2021 the Fire Standards Board, (chaired by Councillor Nick Chard) launched the second phase of the Fire Standards development. FSMC members responded to the consultation in January 2022 and the nine standards were published in March. FSMC continue to enable and empower officers to engage in the implementation of the Fire Standards.

In the last State of Fire Report the Inspectorate highlighted that diversity and equality within the sector must be improved. This is also an area of high priority for the FSMC and through the Fire Inclusion and Diversity Member Champions Network (chaired by Dr Fiona Twycross) we have been able to facilitate learning and discussion around a number of issues including barriers in relation to career progression and racial equality in the fire and rescue sector

Building safety

The Building Safety Bill received Royal Assent in April 2002. Throughout the process, we have continually sought to strengthen the Bill for both councils and residents. The LGA submitted written and oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee (PBC) considering the Building Safety Bill.

Through the Fire Protection Board, the LGA worked closely with the NFCC, the Home Office and the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to support the Building Risk Review (BRR) which was completed at the end of 2021.

In early April the LGA hosted a document drawn up by sector experts, led by the LGA and NFCC, on how council private sector housing enforcement and the fire service can work together to inspect and enforce in relation to dangerous cladding.

A number of member development programmes and sessions have taken place. In-person Building Safety Leadership Essentials resumed in February, and the Joint inspection Team hosted a series of webinars focusing on collaboration between local authorities and fire and rescue services and the need for and means of joint working.

Children and Young People Board

Councillor Julie Fallon

 

julie_fallon

Conwy County Borough Council 
Deputy Chair, Children and Young People Board

Councillor Judy Jennings

Independent Group Member, Children and Young People Board

The Children and Young People Board has responsibility for the LGA’s activity on the wellbeing of children and young people, including education, social care, health and early years.

Board priorities

The board’s priorities for the 2021/22 municipal year were:

  • lobbying for sufficiency of high needs funding to support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
  • commissioning research to support and inform the LGA’s ongoing input into the independent review of children’s social care
  • developing work to support councils in putting children and young people at the heart of recovery
  • developing arguments for additional funding for early years provision to support the Government’s Levelling Up agenda
  • continuing to work with Government to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people post COVID-19
  • anticipating the refresh of the consultation on statutory guidance on youth service provision and working with partners to respond to this
  • lobbying for an increase in the minimum age of criminal responsibility
  • supporting disadvantaged families and children by considering the impact of national and local welfare policy and support to ensure the role of councils in supporting low income and disadvantaged households is both properly recognised and adequately resourced.

To this end a number of meetings have been held with senior Government figures, including:

  • Dame Rachel de Souza, the new Children’s Commissioner for England to discuss ‘building back better’ for children post COVID-19 and ensuring children and young people’s voices are heard in policy making
  • Andrea Leadsom MP to discuss the Best Start for Life review, highlighting the challenges councils will experience due to the reductions in the public health grant
  • Baroness Barran (Minster for the School System) to discuss the forthcoming Education White Paper and to stress the importance of a continued role for councils in education and the need for sufficient powers to fulfill councils’ remaining statutory duties, as well as allowing councils to set up and lead their own multi-academy trusts
  • Chris Philip MP (Home Office) and Vicky Ford MP (Department for Education Minister) to discuss to range of improvements to the rota system for the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (USAC) including increased funding for USAC and care leavers
  • Nadhim Zahawi MP (Secretary of State for Education) and Will Quince MP (Minister for Children and Families) to discuss leadership in children’s services and the importance of a whole systems approach to supporting children and families.

Inquiries

The board also responded to a number of inquiries, including:

  • The Department for Education’s (DfE) consultation on national standards for unregulated accommodation for children in care and care leavers aged 16 and 17, by emphasizing the importance of good quality provision for these young people while noting ongoing challenges around placement sufficiency
  • All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Services, Employment and Covid-19 and Youth Unemployment
  • responding to the Case for Change report published by the independent Review of Children’s Social Care.

Published papers

The board has also published two papers:

Finally, I’d like to thank the board’s Deputy Chair, Councillor Julie Fallon (Conwy County Borough Council) for her focus and input, which ensured the Independent Group’s views were always represented and of course, the LGA Independent Group office staff for their continued support and guidance.

City Regions Board

Councillor Gillian Ford 

gillian_ford

Deputy Leader London Borough of Havering
Deputy Chair, City Regions Board

Levelling up

The City and Regions Board have considered the impact of levelling up locally, undertaking a joint enquiry with the People and Places Board. It was clear that the Governments expectations were at odds with reality. Councils want economies to thrive, the vulnerable cared for with healthy environments, whilst recognising the need for sustainable finance, coherent strategies, partnerships and policy stability. In February, the White Paper was published outlining the Government’s ambition to pursue 12 national missions, which raised more questions than it provided answers, at a time of rising inflation, and increasing household poverty. An additional piece of work has started around demography and levelling up with the Levelling Up Locally Inquiry. This will look at how the Government’s levelling up agenda might better strengthen local communities and look beyond the Levelling Up White Paper, to investigate the role of local leadership in shaping a recovery from COVID-19 that works.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

The preliminary learning from the Community Renewal Fund pilots was considered in conjunction with the LGA’s lobbying work regarding the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). It was clear that the UKSPF should provide greater flexibility with the potential to deliver locality-based ambitions. It was therefore determined that local government should be co-designing to ensure the fund fitted local decision making, tackled inequalities whilst delivering locally determined outcomes. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) agreed, but sent invitations to home nations officers, excluding elected members from the process.

Employment and skills

Due to the Government’s shift in employment and skills policy it was determined that the LGA needed to refresh and enhance the previous ‘Work Local’ report. This would assist local councils considering devolution deals alongside placing the LGA proposal back on the national agenda, helping to shape the Levelling Up White Paper and Further Education White Paper. Consideration was to be given to ‘place matters’, the Governments revival of devolution, further education reforms and councils’ unique position of being able to bring infrastructure and employability investment together. A Work Local Reference Group was to be established with 18 local councils taking part from across the UK. A new ‘Work Local’ hub was to be launched on the website, alongside social media videos and animation development, with a Ministerial roundtable.

Green skills and jobs

The climate change agenda led to the board discussing green skills and jobs. Due to the current programmes being nationally commissioned, local need and demand are difficult for us to meet. The ambition is to make the best of the current system and to develop a partnership between local and national government to develop a devolved approach. The prediction of 694,000 direct jobs in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy by 2030 is an opportunity for councils to benefit from net zero job creation. Discussions have started as to what constitutes a ‘green job’ and there is a focus on the low levels of diversity and people from disadvantaged backgrounds working in the green sector, STEM sectors and construction. A policy piece on the local net zero employment and skills offer was started by considering the barriers such as varying levels of capacity and expertise, the need for increased public and employer awareness and knowledge, fragmented funding, squeezed budget, transition and the current curriculum absence of a net zero focus. The LGA secured a place on the Net Zero Building Council, where skills was a key topic. The LGA is looking to understand if this is a challenge that requires the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and DfE membership and LGA boards have agreed that we need to develop a policy position and recommendations on retrofitting.

The board also welcomed a presentation from the UK Cities Climate Investment Commission. Both the Conservatives and Labour have been offered a place on the Commission. The Independent Group lack of presence was challenged and can confirm we have now been offered an independent discussion.

Health devolution

Integral to the board’s work was a focus on health devolution and an invite extended to Councillor David Fothergill the Chair of the Community Wellbeing Board who updated the board on the progress of integrated care systems.

Urban Summit

Finally, an Urban Summit was held with a number of key speakers including Secretary of State The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Professor Greg Clark from Connected Places Catapult, Sir Nick Serota from the Arts Council, Steve Turner from UK Cities Climate Investment Commission and Miatta Gahnbulleh from the New Economics Foundation. Regrettably I was unable to attend due to catching COVID-19!

Community Wellbeing Board

Councillor Rosemary Sexton

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council
Deputy Chair, Community Wellbeing Board 

This year, the Community Wellbeing Board (CWB) has had a busy agenda. Amongst the areas covered have been: 

The Health and Care Act

The CWB has looked carefully at aspects of this bill (and previously, the white paper), and has overseen the production of LGA responses, feedback and guidance to councils on the setting up of Integrated Care Partnerships (ICPs). We have worked hard to ensure that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England recognise local government as a valued and key partner in the planning and delivery of place-based service provision. The LGA also worked with peers to submit an amendment to the Act, to ensure that the Secretary of State’s powers to intervene in local health arrangements are exercised in consultation with local health scrutiny committees. This is something I supported. We have also welcomed the explicit reference to the importance of population health and preventative work to tackle health inequalities. However, I have queried on several occasions how DHSC will ensure that this work gets the focus it needs given the existing challenges in the NHS.

Social care reforms and workforce challenges

Social care has been a challenging area for councils recently. The CWB has raised cross-party concerns about the growing challenges councils are facing in meeting this need, particularly with regard to the shortage of social care workers. We have also raised concerns about the funding for the promised social care reforms. The LGA believes that the earmarked £5.4 billion raised from the increase in National Insurance premiums is likely to be inadequate to cover the Government’s promises in the context of a stretched service that has had to deal with a growing funding gap over the last decade. There is concern that some areas will be particularly hard hit. I have repeatedly emphasised that solving the recruitment challenges in this sector will require us to value care workers and ensure they are paid a wage that adequately reflects the importance of the work they do, not just a pin badge and some ‘resilience training’. 

COVID vaccination and testing programmes, and local authority response

Amongst the work done by the board on these topics, the LGA provided consultation responses regarding mandatory vaccination of social care workers, and for NHS workers; and more recently responded to the consultation about the terms of reference for the forthcoming COVID enquiry. We’ve also heard from Jenny Harries of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) about the public health reforms. 

Mental Health Act reform

We have discussed the forthcoming Mental Health Act reform, and the LGA has been involved in the ongoing consultation around this Bill. We will shortly have an opportunity to review and ask questions about the draft legislation. 

Suicide prevention

I have taken a particular interest in this area. Councils are responsible for developing and coordinating suicide prevention plans. The LGA offers support to councils in doing this, as we reported recently in First magazine. I have also helped to promote funding earmarked for local suicide prevention work. I represent the LGA on the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Advisory Group. 

Other work

I represent the LGA on the Health Devolution Commission; an independent cross-party and cross-sector body working to champion and support the successful implementation of devolved and integrated health and social care services across England.

I have chaired a number of webinars and conference sessions, taking a particular interest in those relating to mental health, health inequalities, active travel and the environment, as well as representing the LGA at events including roundtable discussions with the Future Social Care Coalition, and Learning Disability England’s national conference.

This is a small cross-section of the work taking place on this board. If you would like to discuss any of these, or other, topics then please get in touch at rosemary.sexton@solihull.gov.uk

Culture, Tourism and Sport Board

Councillor Julian German 

julian_german

Cornwall County Council 
Vice Chair, Culture, Tourism and Sport Board 

The LGA has continued to advocate for the critical role of culture, tourism and sport services to communities and Government during the pandemic, and in the recovery period.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport

In particular, the board’s push for engagement with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has significantly strengthened our relationship compared with 2020, with lead members meeting the Secretary of State for DCMS, Minister for Arts and Culture, and the Minister for Sport and Tourism. Regular DCMS meetings at both ministerial and officer level are now in place across each part of the portfolio, helping DCMS to understand the critical importance of councils to delivering their culture, tourism and sport objectives. We also hope this will strengthen DCMS’ ability to advocate across Government for investment in these services, which offer so many opportunities and benefits to our residents.

Levelling up

Recent announcements in the Levelling Up White Paper and UK Shared Prosperity Fund prospectus give the clearest Government recognition of this in a long time, with both funds identifying culture, sport and heritage as one of the three objectives they aim to support. We are working with DCMS, the arms-length funding bodies, and sector stakeholders to develop practical support for councils to develop strong bids in these areas.

Sport and leisure services

The LGA has also begun work to outline a strategic vision for these services, identifying challenges and opportunities for these services over the next five to 10 years. Our first priority has been ensuring the sustainability of our sporting and physical activity services, which have been particularly hit by loss of income and now by rising energy prices. Following on from our success in securing £100 million for the sector in 2020, we have influenced the developing of the Moving Communities Platform which for the first time captures usage of these facilities and places a social value on each visit, allowing significantly more informed local and national investment decisions. Please do check that your area is making use of this tool.

Alongside this work, we have published the joint LGA, Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) and Chief Culture and Leisure Officers Association (CLOA) report Securing the future of public sport and leisure services, which was launched in Parliament on 14 September 2021. The report’s findings and recommendations are based on an extensive consultation with over 260 local government representatives, leisure providers, arms-length bodies, national governing bodies and the Local Government Physical Activity Partnership (LGPAP). The recommendations reflect what the sector told us needs to change to make public sport and leisure services sustainable and to realise its potential to deliver on a wide range of national and local policy objectives. We have also produced a slide deck to support local conversations and raise the profile of the service and highlight its unique contribution to community wellbeing. This work is being supplemented by additional sector-specific briefings on key issues such as tackling climate change, diversifying funding sources and working across council boundaries. The goard has also influenced the design of new funds announced to support public parks, tennis courts, and multi-sport pitches so that councils can achieve a greater impact with the money available.

Culture and heritage

On the cultural and heritage side, we have launched the Commission on Culture and Local Government. It is looking into the role locally funded culture can play in pandemic recovery and aims to raise the profile of the work councils and their partners do at a local level to support a thriving cultural ecosystem. Led by Baroness Lola Young and supported by 15 commissioners from across the culture, funding and local government sectors, it will be collecting evidence on four key themes - inclusive economic recovery; health inequalities; education skills and social mobility; and place − over the course of 2022 and reporting in December.

Other culture-related activity during 2021/22 has focused on ensuring councils are able to play a full part in the many festivals and celebrations taking place in 2022, including the Platinum Jubilee and Unboxed festival. This includes briefing Government and organisers on the role councils play in enabling local celebrations and running online events to help councils understand when and where they can contribute. I had the pleasure to chair the webinar on the Unboxed Festival. The LGA also ensured that council representatives have helped design the route for the Queen’s Baton Relay alongside the Commonwealth Games.

Our sector-led improvement programmes for councillors and officers, funded by Arts Council England and Sport England continue to go from strength to strength. Both agencies have committed further funding for 2022/23 and expanding some elements. If you are looking to develop your own leadership skills and understand the latest developments in policy and practice, please do consider booking your free place.

Councillor Tom Hollis − Culture Tourism and Sport Board’s libraries champion

Libraries are of massive importance to our constituents, and no one understands this better than independent councillors who all have fought to keep services in our respective areas. Not simply for the protection of opening hours but also a good quality service. The LGA recently set up a sounding board in partnership with the Arts Council this is to look at improving the library service, largely sharing best practice but also with the aim to provide accreditation to local library services.

As part of the LGA’s in-kind contribution to the Arts Council England (ACE)/LGA Improvement Programme, the Culture, Tourism and Sport team is working with the libraries team at ACE to build a Councillor Sounding Board for libraries. This group mirrors the existing Heads of Service Sounding Board established by ACE, and its purpose is to test new library policy with a representative group of councillors drawn from councils across the country, and to ensure their perspectives are incorporated in ACE and LGA programmes.

In my role as libraries champion, I am representing the LGA Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, acting as Co-Chair of the group, along with ACE Director, Libraries Sue Williamson.

The first meeting of this group took place in January and included a discussion with the British Library on the Single Digital Presence for Libraries programme. The perspectives shared with the British Library in this meeting were then built into their wider engagement process for the programme.

This group will meet every six months and the next meeting is being scheduled in July. Members of the group will be updated on progress against the Single Digital Presence programme and asked for comment on other national library programmes, which could include library accreditation and the library ‘assessment strategy’, which is reviewing what information we need libraries to collect to really capture their impact on communities. 

As I understand it, this will be my last annual report so I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed in any way to assisting Tom and me. I look forward to contributing to the CTS Think Tank in the future.

Economy, Environment, Housing and Transport Board

Councillor Loic Rich

Cornwall Council
Deputy Chair, Economy, Environment, Housing and Transport Board 

It's great to be able to have the opportunity to help shape LGA priorities over subjects as diverse and interesting as green transport, affordable housing, flood prevention, combatting climate change, boosting our local economies, and increasing recycling rates, so I was delighted to get take up this role last September, following on from previous deputy chair Councillor Linda Gillham.

I am grateful to fellow board member Councillor David Beaman who continues to provide excellent insights and contributions to the work of the Board, and to substitute board members Councillor Jamie Osborn, Councillor Diana Moore, and Councillor Ed Gemmel who have also been very active and helpful. All of this is backed up by some very capable and diligent officers who report to the board and very keen to both answer questions and follow up requests for information.

Water quality

Despite the ongoing limitations of the pandemic and online meetings, the Economy Environment Housing and Transport (EEHT) board has been incredibly active across its diverse portfolio, with climate change − notably the LGA EEHT board input to COP26 − dominating much of its work, but also perhaps lesser-known issues such as water nutrient quality showing how one area of work of our board can impact another, such as planning and housing.

Housing crisis

The EEHT board has continued its work on building safety legislation and continues to argue the point that industry should pay and not leaseholders (also making a distinction between social landlords and developers.) Another area of housing I have been keen to make an input on, including in responses to parliamentary consultations, has been some significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the increase in working from home, on the private rental and sales market across the UK. This has led to a ‘housing crisis’ particularly being felt in rural areas.

Office for Environmental Protection (OEP)

A new public body, I was pleasantly surprised to find the OEP very keen to engage with councils and work collaboratively, as opposed to my initial concerns that this new office would simply ‘boss’ us about. With climate change now dominating a range of policy cutting across the LGA’s remit, this is also helping to push out other environmental issues into discussion. The OEP will also hold Government to account which will be interesting given our Independent Group often feels not nearly enough is being done on a range of action to safeguard and grow our ecology.

Green skills and jobs

A range of work is being done by the EEHT board on a variety of economic issues, including green job creation and the necessary skills training and education, which will be critical to achieving the UK’s net zero obligations by 2050. LGA analysis demonstrates that almost 700,000 jobs could be created in England’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy by 2030, rising to 1 million by 2050.

Think tanks discussions

We had a great online discussion, with a sizeable turnout on sustainable transport last year, with some in depth consideration of topics such as rail electrification, connecting remote rural areas, and bus fares… I am working to schedule some more think tank discussions, with hopefully a housing and planning related session being scheduled soon. But please do get in touch if there is anything specific with the EEHT remit that you would like considered. Above all I am just very grateful for the level of interest from some very knowledgeable and supportive colleagues on the think tank – thank you.

Improvement and Innovation Board

Councillor Neil Prior 

neil_prior

Pembrokeshire County Council 
Deputy Chair, Improvement and Innovation Board 

The Improvement and Innovation Board’s (IIB) role is to ensure councils have the help they need to innovate and improve their performance, in line with the grant determination letter from (what was) MHCLG on sector-led improvement. As the lead member for the productivity portfolio, the team has continued to provide excellent support to the immediate needs of the sector, whilst continuing to push forward an agenda that supports councils ongoing improvement and modernisation.

Cyber, digital and technology (CDT)

CDT remains a critical challenge for councils, and this year cyber has gained even greater visibility with the team launching a Cyber 360 peer challenge offer, helping councils build cyber capability and improve the understanding of good cyber security. The team also offered digital improvement support through several projects and initiatives such as the Digital Pathfinders programme, the Digital Connectivity programme, and the Local Government Digital Committee (LGDC) network and worked hard to improve CDT policy and practical support across an enormous number of stakeholder groups. The impact of the support is that the sector is rapidly being upskilled, and the programme has directly funded 98 per cent of English councils.

Procurement and commissioning

The Procurement and Commissioning programme supports councils to improve processes that deliver across three themes: showing leadership; behaving commercially and achieving community benefits, and the team has continued to show its value in meeting both reactive needs and developing agendas that benefit the sector for the longer term. Those reactive needs have involved supporting councils procuring energy from Gazprom to help them to network and support each other on calls for the public sector to exit contracts with Russian entities, through to a critical intervention in the Transforming Public Procurement Green Paper, strongly making the case on behalf of local government. Sector satisfaction with the programme is evidenced by the 5,000 subscribers to the weekly procurement newsletter.

Economic growth

The Economic Growth Improvement programme exists to build the capacity, skills and confidence of councillors and officers in their role to rebuild their local economies post pandemic, and has done this by delivering support and additional capacity to 10 councils to tackle their local economic growth challenges, has delivered two Economic Growth Leadership Essentials programmes to support elected members in their economic development role, and the Economic Growth Design Skills programme has supported councils to apply design-thinking to their local economic challenges. With 53 case studies relating to economic growth produced, the team have delivered webinars and roundtables on the topics of public/private partnerships post pandemic, the long-term resilience of our high streets, lessons learned from business engagement during the pandemic, the green recovery, upskilling young people and the visitor economy.

Behavioural insights

The Behavioural Insights programme supports councils to encourage behaviour change amongst local communities to improve outcomes and reduce demand on public services and continues to raise its profile in the sector. Supporting numerous councils with their individual behavioural challenges including increasing COVID-19 vaccine uptake, increasing physical activity, reducing male suicide and reducing school exclusions, the learnings have been shared through the ‘Nudges for social good’ podcast series and annual behavioural insights conference. The podcast has recently launched its tenth episode, and over 570 delegates attended the behavioural insights conference, demonstrating continued interest in this area of innovation.

Squeezing a few key snippets into a brief report does not do justice to the work of the team in other equally important areas such as climate change, the continued use and adoption of data through the award-winning LG inform, and wider sector led improvement activities. My role in advocating the productivity team’s work is made easier by the outstanding people leading in these areas, and I’m always impressed by their professionalism and passion for improvement.

Advocacy

My role as a board member for the LGA Independent Group also means that I play an active role in promoting the Improvement work, and so this year I have chaired webinars covering digital and procurement, as well as a session at the annual LGA peer conference. I’ve taken a keen interest in the Performance Support Panel meetings, where because of my request, a thematic was produced to help us understand the key challenges facing councils. I’ve also been an advocate for the LGA’s sector-led improvement offer in Wales, where with the support of the goard, we were able to contribute to the Welsh LGA’s input into the Welsh Government’s investment into sector led support for councils in Wales. It’s also been a real privilege to be one of the facilitators on the LGA leadership academy this past year, working with councillors of all political persuasions in the pursuit of local government improvement.

 

 

Safer and Stronger Communities Board

Councillor Clive Woodbridge 

Epsom and Ewell Borough Council 
Deputy Chair, Safer and Stronger Communities Board 

The Safer and Stronger Communities Board (SSCB) has developed a comprehensive work plan covering six key themes: Prevent, counter-extremism and cohesion; community safety; blue light services and civil resilience; licensing and regulation; building safety; crematoria, coroners and registrars.

While there is important and valuable work ongoing in all these strands it is perhaps worth highlighting four elements where the board has been particularly active.

Violence against women and girls

Tackling violence against women and girls has been a board priority for a number of years but has had a sharpened focus following the murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021. The board has been assisting councils implement their new duties under the Domestic Abuse Act to provide accommodation-based support and services to the victims of domestic abuse, including running a series of online workshops and publishing guidance and case studies. The board has also been participating in two groups established by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to address domestic abuse: the National Expert Steering Group on Domestic Abuse which has been established to help improve the response to domestic abuse; and the Strategic Reference Group on Domestic Abuse Perpetrators, which seeks to improve the response to tackling domestic abuse perpetrators. Early intervention and prevention to stop domestic abuse from occurring in the first place has been a focus of the board’s work so it is welcome that the government has responded to our calls for a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy and committed to bring this forward as part of the forthcoming domestic abuse strategy.

Extremism and preventing terrorism

Supporting councils to tackle extremism and prevent terrorism has been another board priority for a number of years. We have long argued for a joined-up approach and continued investment in measures that help not only to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism, but which also tackle wider issues around extremism and cohesion that can lay the foundations for polarisation, radicalisation and criminality and cause wider social harms. The board has therefore provided submissions to the Government’s review of the Prevent strategy and the proposed new Protect duty, the Law Commission’s review of hate crime legislation, Sara Khan’s review of social cohesion and resilience, and to the Manchester Arena Inquiry on the role of licensing in ensuring there is adequate first aid provision at venues in the event of a significant incident. The board has also continued to support the Special Interest Group on Countering Extremism, which is a local authority network for sharing good practice through thematic seminars, roundtables, regional elected member networks, practitioner working groups on far right and faith-based extremism, an online knowledge hub, and bespoke advice to councils facing specific challenges.

Building safety

Along with other boards (predominantly Fire Services Management Committee and the Grenfell Working Group) we have an interest in ensuring building safety. Key LGA priorities have been to increase the speed with which building owners remediate dangerous cladding and to protect tenants and leaseholders from bearing the costs for fixing problems they are not responsible for. The recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities of the four principles to underpin the government’s building safety programme has been welcome as it picked up on many of the LGA’s lobbying points.

Taxi safety

As part of its work to improve the safety of those using taxis the board worked with the National Anti-Fraud Network and the sector to create the National Register of Refusals and Revocations (NR3). While there has been significant voluntary participation by councils in the scheme the Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill would make it mandatory for licensing authorities to search a database, such as the National Register of Revocations and Refusals (NR3), to access vital background information about drivers seeking a licence in their areas. Although the bill is a private members bill, it has Government support and has already completed its passage through the House of Commons, so stands a good chance of becoming law.

Close working

In a welcome development, the board, and particularly the lead members, have been working more closely with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) on several topics. We held a round table on anti-social behaviour which identified key action point for future joint working, and I am confident this closer working relationship between the Safer Stronger Communities Board and APCC will yield dividends.

Local Partnerships

Councillor Tony Saffell

tony_saffell

North West Leicestershire 

I am delighted to represent the LGA’s Independent Group on the board of Local Partnerships, which is a joint venture between the LGA, HM Treasury and the Welsh Government. It was formed in 2009 and works solely for the benefit of the public sector.

Purpose

Local Partnerships’ purpose is to help public sector organisations face the ever-increasing challenge of meeting rising demands for services, with shrinking budgets. We provide capacity and capability where it is needed, helping to form a bridge between central government policy and local delivery. Our support is especially relevant in helping councils and combined authorities shape and create place-based growth and develop responses to the climate emergency.

Annual report

We report annually on our activities and performance through our Impact Report, the latest of which may be found on our website. Highlights of our 2021/22 work include:

Helping the public sector commence preparation for the expiry of its PFI contracts. For example, we successfully delivered the re-financing of Sheffield City Council’s highways maintenance PFI, which reached financial close in March 2022, delivering a re-financing gain to the public sector of £14.2 million.

Working closely with the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) in developing their model guidance, alongside other government departments and authorities who have responsibility for the expiry process. Our role involved acting as a critical friend providing specific input into the guidance and as part of the red team review confirming the final output was fit for purpose.

We carried out commercial governance reviews and developed guidance for councils to use when considering setting up companies or reviewing companies which they wholly or partly own. This helps councils strike an appropriate balance between a Local Authority Trading Company’s (LATCo) freedom and accountability.

We supported Birmingham City Council to develop its commercial approach, to explore and develop opportunities for increasing revenue from existing and new commercial ventures. We assessed the commercial landscape to help the council improve its commercial approaches and develop its commercial strategy.

We assessed around 300 Levelling up Round 1 bids, providing detailed assessment of the deliverability of each bid, considering the financial, commercial and management aspects of the project, to facilitate approvals of successful projects. We also delivered webinars, guidance and specific requests for support as part of our role in strengthening delivery capability and leveraging the expertise and knowledge that exists across the sector.

We developed the Turnkey pilot which seeks to support councils to identify suitable small housing sites and assembles a project team to design a Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) housing scheme, through to planning application and appointment of main contractor.

We helped to translate Government policy into local delivery through training and support to councils on the Sourcing Playbook. Working in conjunction with the LGA, Cabinet Office and DLUHC, our series of webinars help the local government community better understand the Playbook and maximise its value. The webinars covered procurement, should cost modelling, business cases and options appraisals, risk allocation and payment mechanisms, contract management and ensuring successful supplier relationships.

We created guidance on Scope 3 emissions reporting, which is a developing area for councils, to accompany our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Accounting tool to improve the reporting process. The GHG accounting tool has been downloaded by over 300 councils. It has also been adopted by London Councils as their methodology for reporting across London.

We helped to establish Clean Air Zones for Bath and North East Somerset Council, Birmingham City Council and Portsmouth City Council.

We delivered a wide range of webinars focusing on issues including: Scope 3 emissions, COP26, energy retrofit of buildings and the Levelling Up Fund.

We promoted councils’ work in responding to the climate emergency through the trade press including The MJ, Award: ‘Leadership in responding to the climate emergency’, and the LGC’s second Net Zero conference, recognising the importance of local government work in this arena.

We supported the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and numerous councils helping treat and divert from landfill approximately three million tonnes of residual waste.

During the year we carried out 11 council major infrastructure reviews with a combined grant funded investment value of over £3 billion.

For further information about Local Partnerships’ work, please contact Caroline Hampden-White, Head of Marketing and Communications, caroline.hampden-white@localpartnerships.gov.uk or 07921 604 230.

Congress of the Council of Europe 

Councillor Linda Gillham

linda_gillham

Runnymede Council

In October 2021 the congress began a new five-year mandate. Committee presidents were elected and new members admitted. The meeting was held in hybrid format and many members welcomed the opportunity to meet up with colleagues again. Apart from the debate, the lunch and coffee breaks and meetings between different national delegations are so important.

Most of the election monitoring has happened online and whilst it has continued the delegations have also reported a sadness at the lack of presence in the locations and especially the polling stations.

Ukraine

In March, I was able to attend the plenary session in Strasbourg and although it was a hybrid session there were representatives from all over the European continent. The Russian delegation had been suspended and then removed from the Council of Europe prior to this plenary but the session was dominated by the situation in Ukraine. One day was dedicated to this and we were all moved by the Ukrainian delegation who had driven to Strasbourg from Poland with their children. The four female delegates spoke movingly of the situation at home and the children joined one session and distributed Ukrainian flags, photo calls and other signs of solidarity.

Fake news and hate speech

There was also an important debate on fake news and hate speech. This is an issue that the congress has given high priority and the youth delegates to the congress offered very informed contributions to the debate. Each country nominates a youth delegate to the congress for a year and they work together online and in groups on topical projects. It is amazing to see so many young people with multiple languages, although they use English for the presentations, engaged in the political issues of the day in a well informed and researched debate. The youth delegates are a real inspiration and hope for the future.

Monitoring visit

Finally, there was a debate on the Monitoring visit to the UK which looked at how the European Charter of Local Self Government is applied. The UK joined the Council of Europe in May 1949 and signed the charter in 1997. In the summary, the monitoring report says:

“The rapporteurs however express concern, inter alia about the fact that the principle of local self-government is not explicitly recognised in the UK’s domestic legislation, and that local authorities’ capacity to perform local tasks effectively is limited in practice due to the overregulation that narrows local scope of action, a rather heavy supervision by higher level authorities and significant local government dependence on national funding”

It goes on to call for enhanced fiscal capacity for councils to allow the costs of service delivery to be met and render councils’ finances more buoyant.

It is hoped that face to face meetings will return and election monitoring missions will take place now as there is continued democratic activity across the 46 countries that make up the Congress of the Council of Europe. I look forward to taking part in the monitoring visits and reporting back on findings.

 

Councillor spotlight 2021/22

Councillor Kevin Etheridge

Caerphilly County Borough Council

Community Champion Award winner

Councillor Etheridge won the Local Government Information Unit’s (LGiU) Community Champion award at the 2021 England and Wales Councillor Awards, having received 686 nominations. The LGiU cited many examples of Councillor Etheridge’s work with his local community, including the creation of Blackwood Showfield skate park, where Councillor Etheridge spent many hours engaging with locals to see what they want and need and to reassure them, along with overseeing the Cwmgwlli housing estate development to make sure no corners were cut.

According to the LGiU, the list of Councillor Etheridge’s achievements in his community is vast and impressive, from working cross-party to stop the closure of local leisure facilities to actively raising concerns about building developments impacting on greenfield sites within Islwyn – including chaining himself to the old council office railings overnight!

Election 2022

With his distinctive gold-yellow leaflets and frequent pieces in the local press, Councillor Etheridge achieved the highest vote in the Council in the May 2022 elections with 1877 votes and gained 19 per cent of the vote in the Senedd Elections, coming second to Labour. Councillor Etheridge and his colleagues believe that their work knocking on 3000 doors paid dividends in enabling them to be elected whereas there was an overwhelming Labour majority in other wards. Many residents said how pleased they were that we knocked on their door. 

Bowel cancer

Councillor Etheridge also raises awareness of bowel cancer and the importance of early diagnosis. He is an Awareness Volunteer for Bowel Cancer UK, and at the time of writing, he has been shortlisted for the Achievement Award for Public Awareness and Engagement, at the Moondance Cancer Awards 2022.

His commitment to raising awareness of bowel cancer follows his own battle with the disease after a diagnosis in 2019. He says he initially ignored the screening test kit that he was sent in the post and did not appreciate the importance of it at the time. Since then, he has become a strong advocate for the screening programme. The kits are provided free for Welsh residents by Bowl Screening Wales but only 55 per cent of people take up the offer, and Councillor Etheridge wants to change that.

Resources Board

Councillor Jason Zadrozny

Ashfield District council
Deputy Chair, Resources Board 

The Resources Board has met often over the past year, discussing a large and varied workstream. The nature of changes coming from Government has meant that the board has to comment on detailed reports at pace.

Outside of the formal board meeting there has been a number of lead member meetings and correspondence. Primarily, the board has formally lobbied in a high-profile manner against the cessation of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit. I co-signed a letter to government on this issue on behalf of the Independent Group.

More recently we have been working on Clause 71 of the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill, which proposes amendments to the Local Government Act 2003 to give the Secretary of State new powers to intervene in the capital financing of individual councils.

The Bill was published on 11 May, and we received a summary of the proposals at Resources Board on that day. This is only one aspect of the Bill; a Parliamentary briefing from the LGA is being drafted on the whole Bill and the board are in the process of deciding what to say in that briefing about Clause 71. We have had extensive discussions on capital finance over the past few years, and I have been a vocal opponent to the changes to local authority borrowing which I feel seeks to strangle councils and make them ever more reliant on central government and raising taxes rather than allowing creativity. However, the Resources Board has not discussed the provisions in clause 71.

The board has responded to an urgent consultation from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). This urgent consultation has been undertaken to gather views on proposed temporary changes to the accounting code, to be implemented quickly. These changes are being deemed necessary as a technical issue has emerged on the interpretation by auditors, under the accounting code, of the valuation in council accounts of infrastructure assets (those that will not ever be sold, such as highways). This highly technical issue is having a major impact by further delaying the sign-off of many councils’ accounts which many colleagues continue to tell me is an issue. The proposed solution should deal with the problem for accounts currently delayed by this, as well as accounts for 2021/22 and 2022/23. However, the issue being dealt with in the consultation is a new one that has emerged, so although solving it is necessary, that doesn’t in itself take us any further forward with dealing with the existing problems with delays to finalising audits.

We have also fed into the consultation with a response to DLUHC on changes to the capital framework: Minimum Revenue Provision. The response was developed in consultation with the LGA’s core finance advisers as well with conversations with officers from several other councils that expected to be affected by the proposals. Our response made suggestions on how the impact of the changes can be mitigated.

Late last year the board wrote a letter to John Glen MP, the Economic Secretary, regarding the Money and Pensions Service’s procurement of debt advice. Last summer the Money and Pensions Service started a procurement process which will reduce regional provision for debt advice by 50 per cent and give the biggest share of funding into national, remote, phone and digital services. Following concerns raised by councils and stakeholders, we compiled a letter to outline our concerns about the lack of consultation around the procurement exercise and seek reassurances regarding the impact on local providers and outcomes.

There has been discussion at the Resources Board meeting about different ways of paying the council tax energy rebate, which is still creating challenges for some councils.

Obviously, different rules apply to the core and discretionary schemes.  Eligibility for the core scheme are residents in Band A to D (including Band E with a disabled reduction) properties, where it is the sole or main residence, and residents of student houses (but not halls of residence), annexes, under-18s and the severely mentally impaired (see para 11 of the guidance for the full definition). 

Properties outside this definition (Band E to H and other exemptions) are in theory eligible for the discretionary scheme, but the guidance specifically says that empty and second homes are not eligible and that occupants of student halls of residence (Band M exemptions) are unlikely to be eligible for discretionary support, unless they are exposed to rising energy prices in a similar way to other households.

The Government allocated an additional £144 million to councils for a discretionary scheme. 60 per cent of the £144 million was allocated based on shares of the index of multiple deprivation and 40 per cent allocated based on shares of the estimated number of local council tax support claimants in bands E–H as at September 2021.  Unlike the core scheme the government have said they will not top-up the discretionary scheme.  

Councils can determine locally how best to make use of this funding to support those suffering financial hardship as a result of the rising cost of living. This could include households living in property valued in bands E to H that are on income related benefits or those where the energy bill payers are not liable for council tax. It can also include payments to people in HMOs where the landlord pays the council tax. 

Councils have to determine and publish their criteria, which may require member approval. The FAQs state that where councils consider it the best means of supporting those in financial difficulty, they can use the discretionary fund to offer carefully targeted 'top-up' payments to the most vulnerable households in bands A-D (for example, those on means tested benefits), or to offer support exceeding £150 per household under their discretionary scheme. Some councils are allocating top-ups to council tax support payers. Councils must spend the money by 30 November.

With financial pressures continuing in every regard, inflation, procurement pressures and multi-faceted issues hitting both local government and our residents it is anticipated the work of the Resources Board will continue to be difficult and moving at pace. We will continue to be robust advocates for fairness in and changes that come forward and also for environmental issues to be considered where possible within resources items.

LGA Independent Group contact details

We have an expert team of officers supporting LGA Independent Group councillors across the country. We always want to hear from our members, prospective councillors and those interested in the work of the Independent Group.

Website: www.local.gov.uk/lga-independent

Twitter: www.twitter.com/LGA_Independent

Facebook: www.facebook.com/LGAIndependentGroup

Email: Independent.groupLGA@local.gov.uk

Head of Group Office: Abigail Gallop
020 7664 3206 07824 596758
abigail.gallop@local.gov.uk

Political Officer: VACANT

Political Assistant: Noleen Rosen
020 7664 3215
noleen.rosen@local.gov.uk