The next phase - Group Leader's Comment - 8 December 2017

Breaking news today of the end of the first phase of EU negotiations for the next two years. 

Breaking news today of the end of the first phase of EU negotiations for the next two years. EU citizens are secure in U.K. The single market and customs union will be kept in the Republic of Ireland (ROI), but not in the UK; however, the UK will “maintain full alignment with the rules”. There will be no new border controls within the U.K. nor at the entry into Northern Ireland from ROI. The money is not clear yet either. A full LGA briefing on how this affects local government will be available on our Brexit webpages from Monday.

Back to our negotiations with Government on the Autumn Budget. With the provisional local government finance settlement being announced in the coming weeks, our sights are focused on calling for more of our income tax to be devolved to councils; for them to be able to keep a greater share of business rates in order to run essential services; and for the borrowing cap on housing for all councils to be lifted. We also need infrastructure funds.

Today at the LGA, and via a webinar, we had an Information and Development seminar on preparing budgets to assist members in setting their own council budgets, whether from a position of control or opposition.

On Thursday, Caroline Lucas MP put in an early day motion calling for proper funding for local councils, and earlier in the week Henry Bolton voiced strong support of local government in the LGA Smith Square debate on Brexit. In addition, Lord Wigley raised the Industrial Strategy White Paper published last week with me. 

In the Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark MP does recognise the crucial role of “local place” as one of the five foundations of productivity and of our local industrial strategies. Local government is not to be seen as a delivery arm of central government, but rather, that it is well able to design sound support for local needs and economies.

There is concern that the strategy puts the EU funding in England into separate, unelected Local Enterprise Partnerships, to grow the economy rather than into councils, as in most of Europe. Funds are not transparently shared evenly between combined authorities and the remaining two thirds of the country.

Meanwhile the National Audit Office has just published concerns about LEP performance, accountability and governance. Auditors give only a "light touch" and the Government has only "limited" ability to respond to failure. People will want to know that the LEPs are working for the public good and not steering funds to support their own particular interests and those of their business partners.

DCLG has responded to the investigations into the Greater Cambridgeshire and Greater Peterborough LEP, with the promise of a review to ensure accountability through rigorous financial reporting. 

Funds for infrastructure were announced in the budget, and an announcement that all councils need to be involved is in the Strategy. However, Mr Hammond was focusing only on some areas of greatest growth. 

There is a planned £8.4 billion from European funds for infrastructure, much of it in areas where commercial drivers would not succeed by themselves, so not currently in the areas of greatest growth. We will need a regional aid scheme to replace all of the existing EU regeneration funding (£8.4 billion). We also need skills and infrastructure to be devolved to help ensure that all our local economies have the chance to prosper.