Independent Group Leader's Bulletin: 13 March 2020

Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.

local government association - independent group

Group Leader's Bulletin

13 March 2020


Dear friends and colleagues, 

Just four weeks into the job, Rishi Sunak has reversed Conservative austerity on spending. With interest rates at their lowest for over 50 years, the Chancellor has taken the view that the best way to help the economy is to borrow and spend on infrastructure, the NHS and public services and small businesses. Borrowing will rise to £54.8 billion this year and continue upwards.


Small businesses and others have had business rates removed, directly affecting our income. Government has promised to cover these costs but we need to ensure this happens. Flood defences are to be increased to £5.2 billion over six years and immediate damage repaired with £120 million made available. The Government has made a further £12.2 billion available for affordable homes. There is an emphasis on purchase but our Group are strongly calling for a mixed economy, with an affordable rented sector.

Homelessness gets a further £643 million over four years, including a focus on reducing drugs misuse and the impact of mental health issues.

Roads maintenance of an extra half billion a year for three years is certainly very welcome as we have roads fallen into decay with a huge number of potholes to fill! The UK is due to host COP26 next January in Glasgow and measures have been announced. I look forward to attending and contributing to this key event.

We called for innovation and £10 million is set aside to support the design and delivery of net zero policies and programmes. The LGA has offered a joint task force with Government and we continue to feed in ideas from our group. Households will be able to claim from a pot of £100 million to invest in heat pumps and biomass boilers. A new Green Heat Networks Scheme enables industry to connect to waste heat. Additional sums are for improving air quality and for public transport, but the latter only in the eight combined authorities. Half a billion is for electric charging points and £5 billion for broadband.

There is a lot for the natural environment: £640 million for trees and peatland restoration, increasing tree planting by an area the size of Birmingham. However, allowing natural regeneration of home tree species has been shown to be much more effective. A new Natural Environment Impact Fund is to help prepare green projects that could become commercially viable. Plenty here for our Independent Group members to get cracking on! It’s very good to see some Government-led research and development coming back at £22 billion a year by 2025.

The Corvid-19 Crisis continues apace, with the Government website updated at 2pm daily. Rishi is trusting us councillors with the £500 million hardship fund for individuals, rather than the Department for Work and Pensions, and Public Health England has commended our leadership. As we move into the next phase, it is possible events will be postponed, including the elections. Currently advice is to keep washing your hands with soap and warm water for a good 20 seconds and if in doubt, self isolate for two weeks. That is not always easy in a family situation, and the Government wants to keep the schools open as long as possible.

The LGA is keeping a hub of information for councils updated and I advise you to keep an eye on the Public Health England site and liaise with your local PH teams if you have any queries. Despite some welcome news in The Budget, with just two weeks  before the new financial year we are still waiting for announcement of the public health grant.

Also unsettled is long-term funding for local services, especially for care. We look to the Spending Review for further detail on this and how the Government plans to address the funding shortfall we face of £6.5 billion by 2025.

The biggest negative in this Budget is planning, linked with combining councils, under the cover of “devolution”. We have long supported devolution of power and money to our councils, and we are happy to work together on a number of services for efficiency and savings. However, combining into ever bigger authorities starts to look like centralisation, where local connections with your councillor are hard to maintain and people are forced to vote on the national party politics  as they see it on television. Our member councillors work hard for their communities and are the most trusted, because we keep good local connections and understanding with our communities. Your views on devolution are very welcome so please feed these through the office as the LGA tries to influence this agenda.

You may have seen the work by South Oxfordshire where Greens and Lib Dem’s swept in at the election fighting against the local plan and are now instructed to pass it or it will be given to the conservative-controlled County Council. The lack of democracy is appalling. More on planning next month but you may want to read the Secretary of State’s plans announced yesterday.

All in all, lots of good stuff here, but some holes yet to fill on adult care and public health grant and concerns on planning and devolution. 

Read the LGA responses to the budget and the full on the day briefing online. Your feedback on what this means for your areas will be very useful.

Kind regards,

Councillor Marianne Overton MBE signature
Councillor Marianne Overton MBE

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