Independent Group Leader's Bulletin: 25 September 2020

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local government association - independent group

Group Leader's Bulletin

25 September 2020


Dear Colleagues,

Amid Covid escalating exponentially and disquiet at the government's plan to break international law with the Internal Market Bill, the government has ploughed on with sweeping changes in planning to match the PM's objective to "Build, Build, Build". There are only three zones, Growth, Renewal and green areas - which are also open to applications. 


Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our housing discussions so far. We are collating all of your feedback and sharing with our policy team working on the LGA’s response to the current consultation.

Some of the key lines emerging are:

  1. Centralisation of policies and reduction of opportunities for local people and councillors to engage is unhelpful. 
  2. The proposed housing numbers are too high overall and set unhelpful and confusing mandatory local targets.
  3. The white paper sets out to reduce planning control, despite vast numbers of dwelling permissions that are already given and land allocated.
  4. The White paper does nothing to tackle land-banking. We are calling for council tax to be charged after five years, even if building hasn't started.
  5. We should consider, as in some countries, the council takes the uplift in land value due to their decision, and the developer makes money from developing. That removes the incentive for land-banking and enables councils to provide services and facilities.
  6. The paper risks undermining the democratic accountability councils and the public provide. Centralisation and passing decisions based on technical computer codes takes decision-making still further from residents, contrary to what residents want.
  7. Affordable housing needs to be further protected and incentivised  - the 106 and CIL monies on which local councils rely would be removed and replaced by a central government levy, but no guarantee of how much will be spent locally where it is needed.
  8. Need to protect ability to plan strategically and promote sustainable, zero carbon housing as well as green belt and flood areas
  9. Infrastructure (transport, schools, doctors, utilities) needs to be central to all of this, not an aside or after thought
  10. The White Paper increases permitted development too far, alienating local people as the applications come to be developed.
  11. 'Beauty' and 'good design' is very subjective. Our experience in design is that it is extremely difficult to refuse an application on these grounds when Councils are under the significant pressure to get dwellings built.
  12. Any enforcement needs to target developers as well as councils – this reads like a developer charter

Our work continues on this so do continue to have your say via the group office or EEHT think tank.

Group meetings

We had a useful meeting of members in the West Midlands and North West this week, chaired by Cllr Sarah Rouse and supported by Cllr Alan Seldon as Regional Peer. Key issues were the Planning and Reorganisation of Local Government. Plans for reorganisation continue, despite a quiet shelving of government pressure, for now. I spoke to members about getting prepared for elections next May and beyond.  It will be a different kind of election, so we must be getting our message out and our candidate known now. More information from the office on "Be a Councillor" Campaign, looking at how to find candidates and how to get them elected.

Further regional meetings are being scheduled and invites are coming out to you.

Our Boards continue to meet, including the Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, Fire Commission and Fire Services Management Committee this week.

You will also shortly be receiving an invitation to a seminar on the 6th October on Electoral Legislation – key for all of us as we approach the May 2021 elections and beyond. Hear from a legal expert, able to provide us with a useful refresher on current legislation governing our electoral processes.  

Finally a reminder of our first virtual AGM, taking place on the 6th November, 10am-12.30pm and our conference social event 6pm-8pm. Registration will be open shortly.

Covid-19: further restrictions

New restrictions have been announced this week to combat a rapidly increasing covid-19, whilst seeking to prioritise the economy. Measures include cancelling the planned go ahead of conferences and sporting events, reiterating hand-washing, social distance, the power of 6 and shutting pubs at 10pm.

Our Councils were very successful in distributing the discretionary grants to businesses. We are now asked to distribute the discretionary funds of £500 to people in work on income-related benefits and we will be repaid for our efforts. More information to follow.

The Chancellor yesterday announced his package of support included a new job support scheme whereby employees who work and are paid for a third of their normal hours, will receive 2/3 from the Government, making up a full salary. The Chancellor has also made further loans available for growing businesses. Deferred VAT payments have been spread further and for hospitality and tourism businesses, the increase to 20 per cent VAT in January has been postponed until 31 March 2021.

For our councils, it is still unclear what role we have in the enforcement of the new rules and whether extra burdens will be funded – something we are already pushing for.

Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) Report

A new report on covid-19 and English councils, published yesterday, was commissioned by the LGA jointly with the Economic and Social Research Council. The report shows that we are short by £3.1bn. "Council forecasts imply that Covid-19 spending and overall revenue pressures arising this year could exceed the additional funding made available so far by around £3.1 billion."  £2.0 billion of this will hit budgets this year, but accounting rules mean that the £1.1 billion of this which relates to falls in local tax revenues can be spread over the next three years.

Councils made their forecasts before most local lockdowns came into force and before the recent surge in Covid-19 cases and new stricter measures so there is a significant risk the final shortfall could be higher.

The report finds that without additional funding, councils would have to further reduce the range and quality of services that they provide. Reserves could help address shortfalls for many councils but are not a viable source of funding to address the longer-term financial challenges facing councils.

Thank you for all you’re doing for your communities. Wishing you all well and a good weekend,



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