Independent Group Leader's Bulletin: 23 October 2020

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local government association - independent group

Group Leader's Bulletin

16 October 2020


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Money for essential local services

With over half the country in lockdown from this weekend, we have a lot on our plate. 

Members of our Independent Group Executive met this week and did a great job bringing important issues to the table, helping shape our response. Three further excellent meetings of the top teams at the LGA demonstrated the incredible breadth of the work our members do. Councillors have provided direction and set priorities, worked in detail on the LGA boards and through their Councils, provided expertise and detailed information to make a very strong case on tackling Covid, planning, and reorganisation, especially on funding.

We produced the detail for a full three year spending review to support our requests for secure, long-term funding. We heard this week that the government had decided to do a one year stop-gap for the third consecutive year, making it extremely difficult for councils to properly plan ahead.

Making the case for proper Covid funding since March, we have so far achieved;

  • A further billion agreed this week, the fourth tranche of money since March. The distribution is different this time, as it is also being used as a final balancing sum to the year end. A tenth of this is for Councils to support their leisure centres that were missed previously because they are not in-house, applications needed, details to follow.
  • New funding in tier 2 areas; as a monthly grant from the Council for businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors.

This is on top of the previous grants since March;

  • Three additional funds worth in total £3.7 billion to local authorities including fire and rescue authorities.
  • Over £4 billion of upfront grant payments (including the £1.6 billion COVID grant, £850 million of adult social care grant and pre-COVID-19 section 31 business rates relief compensation) and £2.6 billion of deferred payments of business rates to central government to aid cash flow.
  • A three-month extension of the timescales for production of annual financial accounts and statements.
  • A Government review of other reporting and data collection requirements, which has resulted in postponed deadlines.
  • Money to reimburse councils for lost sales, fees and charges income: (The Government will pay 75p in every pound lost after the first 5%) 
  • Councils allowed to delay repayment of unpaid council and business rates taxes to government. Also a commitment to decide on how losses of local taxation will be shared by central and local government in future.

We are now shifting our focus to the next financial year, which is likely to be considerably worse, unless we can intervene again. Huge thanks to all Councils for contributing the data needed and to staff and councillors who have worked together to make the case so clearly, both to the government and to the public.

Audit: Redmond Review

Sir Tony Redmond has investigated council audits and made recommendations for transparency and “coherence”. We supported shifting the deadline to publish audited accounts by two months to September 30 to help auditors complete the job in time. We also supported a stakeholder group of local and central government and that NHS audit should be included, since they are the very same auditors. We did not support setting up a new piece of beaurocracy, called the “Office of Local Audit and Regulation” to commission and regulate audits nationally, at an estimated cost of £5m pa. Fees would be expected to increase.

Going Unitary or not? 

The District Council Network of the LGA, supported by some of our very influential councillors have come out fighting! They have published three impressive reports setting out the District position on reorganisation, including a financial analysis by Grant Thornton, a report by Respublica and an assessment by Professor Colin Copus. They are well worth a look!

Their article on “Supersize Councils could wipe “local” government off the map” is a great opener and a good time to circulate your own comments to the press this weekend to coincide with those from the District Councils Network. It’s a very good time to have your say. We may be just at tipping point in national decision-making and it’s a good time for you to be at the forefront leading local opinion in your area. You can find all of the DCN resources on their website.

The government has invited three Council areas to go ahead just now, and others are invited to come back next year. The County Council Network of the LGA, took an opposing view in the hope that considerable extra money and powers would be given along county footprints.

School meals for vulnerable children

The Conservatives in Government voted to cease support for free school meal voucher scheme during the holidays, leading to “despair” and at least one conservative MP resignation. The other LGA groups, through their lead members on the Children’s and Young People’s Board, wrote in support, calling on the government in the interests of humanity, to help stop vulnerable children going hungry over holiday periods during normal times, not just during Covid.

Using local data

The LGA’s Research and Information Team has launched a new tool called Find My Area. This shows various types of boundaries and analyses data on whatever boundary you choose – from MP constituency to school catchment, parish or Council ward.

Last Call

Just a few days left to respond to the far-reaching Planning White Paper discussed in a previous bulletin and in our special Independent Group Planning White Paper conference. Please add your voice.

Big Day Friday 6 November

I hope to see everyone at our conference on 6 November. Register for our conference by using the link on the home page of the LGA Independent Group. Great speakers as always. Let’s make it the biggest Independent Group conference yet!

Thanks to you and to our leading Councillors who work together tirelessly to help each other and to bring what is needed to our local councils, enabling them to do the job.

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