LGA Conservative Group bulletin February 2019

"There is no doubt that the Government’s consultations on Business Rates Retention and Fair Funding, alongside the impending Spending Review, present much needed opportunities to review and reform local government funding. Councils are struggling to balance their books and the LGA predicts that the funding gap will reach £8 billion by 2025. "

Dear colleague,

I am writing this following an extremely enjoyable weekend attending the Conservative Councillors’ Association (CCA) Conference. It was great to see so many fellow councillors joining together and sharing ideas on the upcoming local elections. Equally, it was a pleasure to welcome several Ministers including James Brokenshire, Heather Wheeler, Jake Berry and Claire Perry to the Conference and in particular the Prime Minister, who shared her experience as a councillor in Merton.

At the CCA Conference, myself and Cllr John Fuller (Vice-Chairman of the LGA Resources Board) held a workshop on Local Government Finance focusing on Business Rates Retention and Fair Funding, key issues that I would like to discuss further.

There is no doubt that the Government’s consultations on Business Rates Retention and Fair Funding, alongside the impending Spending Review, present much needed opportunities to review and reform local government funding. Councils are struggling to balance their books and the LGA predicts that the funding gap will reach £8 billion by 2025. I believe that the Fair Funding Review needs to recognise the changed nature of demand in relation to council services, particularly in relation to adult and children’s social care (which combined, accounts for around 70 per cent of expenditure). It is also essential that funding is allocated in a transparent, evidence-based manner.

Moreover, whilst the localisation of business rates is an important opportunity for the sector it needs to fully reflect the true costs of the services that are transferred whilst also incentivising local growth. The Spending Review provides an opportunity to both put local government finance on a sustainable long-term footing and remove the unnecessary bureaucracy and perverse incentives that councils face.

For instance, one of our major financial challenges is high needs funding. While in theory the introduction of Education, Health and Care Plans will provide better joined-up support for children with special educational needs (SEN), there needs to be adequate funding to make this vision a reality. The number of children with SEN statements has increased by 35 per cent since 2014 and more children are now being educated outside of mainstream schools, which is of course much more expensive. Therefore, it is essential that the Spending Review provides additional funding based on a proper evaluation of high needs funding arrangements, including home-to-school transport. We also need to look at why the increase has been so great and address issues such as the perverse incentive for schools not to be inclusive.

Building on the success of the return of public health responsibilities to local government, I believe that councils have shown that they can make a real differences when they deliver key services locally, provided they are properly funded. A point that I will continue to make in my regular meetings with Government Ministers across a range of departments.

Conservative Councillors’ Association

Cllr James Jamieson and the LGA Conservative Group Office would like to take this opportunity to formally thank Cllr Rory Love OBE for all his hard work as CCA Chairman over the past three years. It has been a pleasure and we wish him all the very best in his future endeavours.

We would also like to congratulate Cllr Mark Hawthorne MBE on becoming the new CCA Chairman, and look forward to working with him and his newly elected Board members over the upcoming year

Conservative Group Lead Members activities

Our Group Leader, Group Executive and Conservative members of the various LGA governance bodies take time out of their busy schedules to meet with ministers and key policy makers on a regular basis and lobby on your behalf.

Here are some of their recent activities over the last month:

  • Cllr James Jamieson, alongside Cllr Ian Hudspeth (Chairman of the LGA Community Wellbeing Board), met with Matt Hancock (Secretary of State for Health and Social Care).
  • Cllr James Jamieson met with Heather Wheeler (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at MHCLG). Also with Jessie Norman (Minister of State for Transport).
  • Cllr John Fuller (Conservative Vice-Chairman of the Resources Board) was interviewed live on the BBC to discuss the final Local Government Finance Settlement.
  • Cllr David Simmonds met with Lord Willetts and George Freeman MP along with the think-tank ‘Bright Blue’ to look at how intergenerational inequality impacts on councils, in particular housing and social care.
  • Cllr Kevin Bentley (Chairman of the LGA’s Brexit Taskforce) met with James Brokenshire (Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government) to discuss the impact Brexit will have on councils, in particular focusing on UK ports and airports.
  • Both Cllr Peter Fleming (Chair of the Improvement and Innovation Board) and Cllr Martin Tett (Chair of the Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport Board) featured on various media outlets, discussing council waste collection services.
  • Cllr Roy Perry (Conservative Vice-Chairman of the Children and Young People Board) gave evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Childcare and Early Education as part of its inquiry into the financial sustainability of childcare providers.

Be a Councillor Campaign - Reminder

With the May local elections fast approaching, the LGA Conservative Group is keen to offer you any help that you may need in terms of candidate selection and the training and development of selected candidates. We would aim to be as bespoke as possible, but examples of previous support include: Financial support for introductory events for people who are interested in becoming a councillor – for example, a coffee morning or informal drinks reception.

Formal training in group sessions for people who have been selected – for example, on the role of the councillor, legal aspects of the campaign, dealing with the media. Supporting groups/associations having trouble attracting candidates or who would like to attract a more diverse range of candidates (for example, via targeted letters to Conservative pledges, Facebook advertising or advertising in local newspapers).

If any of the above would be helpful to you, or indeed if you think we could help in another way, please do let us know at [email protected].

Future High Streets Fund

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has set up its Future High Streets Fund, totalling £675 million, to help local areas respond to and adapt to changes affecting their local high street. The fund will support local areas to prepare long-term strategies for their high streets and town centres, including funding a new High Streets Taskforce to provide expertise and hands-on support to local areas, as well as co-funding with local areas projects. Councils have until Friday 22 March to submit an expression of interest form to MHCLG or call us on 020 7664 3264. The application form should set out your council’s challenges and strategic approach to regenerating your local town centre.

Housing, Planning and Infrastructure Conference

The LGA is holding its Housing, Planning and Infrastructure Conference on Wednesday 13 March. The conference will include a range of sessions on how innovation emerging across local government’s housing and planning activities is playing an important role in tackling the housing crisis. There will also be a wide range of speakers from the development industry, central government and housing associations, including a keynote speech from Kit Malthouse MP (Minister of State for Housing).

LGA Annual Fire Conference and Exhibition

The LGA is holding its annual fire conference and exhibition on Tuesday 12 until Wednesday 13 March. The 2019 Fire Conference provides an opportunity to examine recent sector changes, share best practice and hear from leading figures in the sector.

Reshaping Financial Support

The LGA has published its Reshaping Financial Support report, which sets out how 10 councils have been providing immediate support and helping people become more financially resilient. The aim of the report is to encourage the Government to better evaluate how council support can reduce the pressure on other high-cost public services, such as health, housing and social care. The LGA will be delivering some pilots with partners and councils later in 2019 to take forward the report's recommendations and further develop and explore local approaches. If you would like to get involved in the pilot scheme please contact [email protected].

Rough Sleeping Strategy

Following the launch of its Rough Sleeping Strategy last year, the Government has launched a consultation on the existing ways councils and other organisations work together to tackle homelessness. It wants to hear from councils about what is currently happening in local areas both where there is effective partnership working and where there is room for improvement. If you are planning to send in your own submissions, please do contact [email protected] as it would be helpful to hear from you. The deadline for submissions is 16 May 2019.

Be part of the LGA's Innovation Zone

Does your council use creative ideas to tackle local issues? If so, you could be part of the LGA’s 2019 Innovation Zone – a vibrant, creative space and programme within the LGA’s Annual Conference and Exhibition (2 to 4 July 2019, Bournemouth). This year’s Innovation Zone will focus on the idea of ‘Taking the plunge’, and the LGA is looking for brave, innovative ideas that have paid off from councils that have not been afraid to try new approaches.

LGA Councillors' Forum

The LGA holds a regular Councillors' Forum. This is a cross-party meeting which discusses topical issues related to local government. Download the agendas for the meeting. In addition, the Conservative Group holds a political meeting before the Councillors' Forum where we often welcome MHCLG and other Government Ministers. These meetings provide an opportunity to discuss important political issues in closed session. All Conservative councillors are welcome to attend the Councillors' Forum and the group meetings. If you wish to do so please email [email protected] or call us on 020 7664 3264.

The next Councillors' Forum will take place on Thursday 7 March, with the Conservative Group meeting starting at 11am.