Party conferences - Group Leader’s Comment – 19 October 2018

"This week, I visited councillors in the lovely town of Saffron Walden, where Independents have also taken all the town council seats and 11 district council seats, so far."

National influence

We’ve had three national successes to our lobbying recently; Government responded to our call for better adult social care funding with a quarter of a billion for emergency winter pressures; the scrapping of the housing borrowing cap for councils which will be lifted on 30 October; and a ban on high rise combustible cladding systems. Lifting the borrowing cap will mean we still want local control of the “right to buy” and local retention of all receipts.

Party conferences

The exciting buzz of party conference season is upon us again. UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party all saw an increase in members attending and we are optimistic for the Independent Network on 10 November and our Independent Group conference on 23 November at the LGA. Our briefings on the work of the LGA and the Independent Group, and our Be a Councillor events were popular and well received by keen and effective people wanting the best possible council performance for their residents. I was made very welcome everywhere and was pleased to listen and to support our members. Our councillors contributed well at all the conferences, with inspiring speeches that were visionary, impassioned, thoughtful and backed by a substantial weight of data. Brexit was obviously high on the agenda along with agricultural policy and the environment. There were also powerful calls to properly fund adult and children’s social care, mental health, schools and policing.

Cllr Andrew Cooper, presenting at the Green conference in Bristol last week, explained he had worked to include in the Local Development Plan (LDP) a criteria that requires carbon emissions to be considered on hydrocarbon planning applications, including fracking. This has been passed by the Inspector, and is valid for inclusion in all our LDPs. This may be a new concept, but what if we now included a planning criteria of impact of carbon emissions from new housing, could we encourage more smaller, affordable, and energy efficient homes? If we included the impact of increased traffic, would that encourage more provision of local services and better public transport links?

This week

This week, I visited councillors in the lovely town of Saffron Walden, where Independents have also taken all the town council seats and 11 district council seats, so far.

We discussed the local issue of excessive development without matching services and facilities, and the recent Inter-governmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) announcement that we are not on track to meet the 2050 target of cutting emissions by 80 per cent of 1990 levels. More efficient use of resources, including energy, saves money, so are our councils doing enough?

Cllr Paul Fairhurst, Mayor of Saffron Walden, has produced a "Mayor's Charter" to reduce plastics, working to get all 250 local businesses and organisations to sign up. To raise the public pressure, some of our members have purchased their own air quality measurement tubes and are using the media to make the point.

In North Kesteven, Lincolnshire Independent members spear-headed inclusion of an environment chapter into the council's business plan, leading to additional skills being brought into the council to write and implement the strategy, with scrutiny support.

Our councillors in Yorkshire are also calling for pension divestment in fossil fuels, by setting a policy in the Pensions Committee that the fund should be future-proofed by a planned reduction in the percentage of the funds invested in fossil fuels. If the Government can ask us to invest a specific percentage in infrastructure, then all the more must we be able to do the same, based on sound financial premises.  Interesting to see Scottish Power has divested itself of all its hydrocarbon power.

This week the LGA Leadership and Executive Boards also met, along with our Group Executive. We called for extra funding for adult social care and got a quarter of a billion. The amounts of emergency adult social care funding for each council has been announced. It was therefore timely that Care Minister, Caroline Dineage MP, was questioned at Councillor Forum this week.

On fairer funding, you may remember the toolkit to examine the influence of different criteria on funding for each council. We now also have an analysis tool showing the impact of Business Rates retention for each council coming soon.

Our Group was successful in having all of our amendments accepted into the LGA Business Plan for this next year, especially on making sure that housing is built for balanced communities, not just housing estates.

On Brexit, LGA officers have been busy looking at the reams of ‘no deal’ documents produced by Government and have produced this document for councils. We continue to press for clarity on whether EU candidates can stand or vote in our May elections.

Finally, our fifth cohort of Next Generation Training starts this week and I look forward to working with our next group of aspiring leaders.

As always, I hope you’ll let us know of any good examples you want to share and your photos of local activity, as part of our Year In Photos competition.

I look forward to seeing you soon, including at our Annual Conference on 23 November, on which you can now book your place.

Kind regards,

Headshot of Councillor Marianne Overton MBE

Councillor Marianne Overton MBE
Leader of the Independent Group
Vice Chair of the Local Government Association