Still wearing hair shirt - Group Leader's Comment - 17 November 2017

Good to see so many of you recently. I hope you and your colleagues will be able to attend our Annual conference on Friday 24 November at the refurbished LGA offices, 18 Smith Square, Westminster, London. It is always an excellent event and well worth attending. 

Best wishes also for the Welsh Local Government Conference, the day before, making a two day event just possible. 

We are awaiting the Budget announcement on 22 November with baited breath. Many residents tell me they are paying their Income tax just the same, but the amount of money coming back to councils for local spend has reduced by some £16bn over the past ten years. We were promised we could keep all the business rates we collect locally, but the Government has stopped half way, without delivering on that.

From our discussions and correspondence with our members, we formed our budget submissions and lobbied hard on proposals designed to help councils deliver for residents in both England and Wales. So here is how to recognise a responsive budget: 

  1. Straight revenue: Councils are £5.8bn short of what is needed to make ends meet by 2020. Children's services are underfunded by £2.3bn. (75 per cent of councils are overspent on children's services, by an average of half a million pounds.)
  2. Any unfunded cost pressures need to be supported. Our current LGA budget is based on a 1 per cent pay increase only, so any announcements there will need to be funded.
  3. Social care market needs a one-off boost of £1.3bn to get back on track. 
  4. A capital prosperity fund to replace the £8.4bn EU regeneration fund.
  5. To help us tackle homelessness, lift the housing borrowing cap, allow councils to control their own 'buy to let' discounts and to keep the funding to enable councils to replace housing that has been sold.
  6. Universal credit. We called a "pause" in the roll-out to get the rules improved. We are calling for a process that works and does not leave people with nothing for six weeks.
  7. An agreement to work on a funding arrangement to distribute funds more fairly among councils.
  8. Support for trade and investment, with or without the EU.  

The Welsh Budget announcement reduced council funds by a further 0.5 per cent. At Merthyr Tydfil last week, we had an excellent presentation from Daniel Hurford, of the Welsh Local Government Association. Education aside, Welsh Local Government has experienced a 27 per cent reduction in funding since 2009/10. The biggest reductions have been in economic development, environment and planning and community support. The elephant is the room is the NHS which could effectively swallow up half the Welsh Government’s budget by 2021 and there is deep concern about replacement of EU structural funds, as that money needs to come back to local councils.  

Councils in England and Wales are using their Powers of Competence to make money to help run services, create housing companies and encourage communities to do more. 

This week, I met with Leaders of Local Government from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, finding areas of common cause where we can unite to create a stronger lobbying force for Local Government, on key issues. 

To assist you personally in standing up for your area during this budget, we have provided a skeleton press release which you may want to adopt, modify and send to your local press. The plan is to get the press interested in your views on how the Budget will affect your residents.