Independent Group Leader's Bulletin: 18 December 2020

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local government association - independent group

Group Leader's Bulletin

18 December 2020

LGA christmas card


Wishing you a very happy Christmas and good health and success through 2021.

Hope you like the Christmas card attached!

This is the last briefing for you before Christmas. A vast amount of information passes through our hands at the LGA every day and I hope you find useful these few key points condensed specifically for you. If you have ideas what else you would like differently in the New Year, please let me know.

Avoiding COVID

This week, our Secretary of State Robert Jenrick held a webinar with fellow officers and ministers advising and responding to Council leaders over the three tiers, Christmas arrangements and Brexit. He also wrote to councillors and officers thanking them for their efforts over the last year.

You will have seen that the lockdowns have not been as effective as hoped, and some schools were anxious to close in time to be able to isolate if necessary and still have Christmas with family. The government is holding to the 18th, which can be a training day.  You will have noticed this government does not want to be the ones to cancel Christmas so are asking people to self-impose their own restrictions.  That means people don’t work, or holiday, but do not get the compensation funds either. We have asked for a much more locally-driven granular approach, so Councils can target the sources of spread. Hospitality businesses in my Tier 3 area complain the compensation is “insulting” as they spent money making themselves COVID-safe and are now closed and struggling to survive, while shops, schools and gyms are open and COVID rates rise around them. The rules are here. Wales will be in full lockdown again after Christmas.

It has been wonderful to see the vaccination programmes up and running at speed, starting with the over 80’s who can travel, and the NHS staff.  The Oxford/Zeneca vaccine is also well over 90% efficient when given in two doses and is on the way. Leader of the laboratory, Sarah Gilbert, says their use of a different viral carrier in the vaccine is likely to make it effective for longer and it is certainly more robust and easier to transport.

The vaccine hub on the LGA website is a helpful resource.

Leisure funding arrives at last

Our Councils need to keep their leisure services afloat, even if the running of them is outsourced, as our Independent Council Leaders and Executive pointed out. We have lobbied hard on this and the £100m money promised in the Spending Review has now been released. Please encourage your council to apply pronto for the recovery fund as the closing date for expressions of interest is Monday 21st December!


Robert Jenrick announced a U-turn on the distribution of new housing required that was making the biggest demands on expensive areas in the south-east. His new focus sounds innocuous on the “20 top cities”, until we realise those cities such as Birmingham are already offloading some of their housing requirements onto the surrounding more rural areas, saying they cannot accommodate what the government has already set for them - let alone take more.

We don’t want the numbers just moved around. We need the numbers of dwellings to be genuinely locally-driven, based on local need, and including the types of housing. We need the right to buy discounts to be decided locally.

He has not U-turned the Planning White Paper which is likely to be seriously damaging to our communities, taking significant control from Councils into Whitehall – completely against the declared direction of flow. There were over 44,000 responses to the White Paper, dubbed another “developer’s charter”, likely to reduce green spaces and increase concrete and congestion. We will need to continue to fight that one, along with the government re-organisation bill which is also due to return after the elections.

The Heathrow extension has been given leave to apply for planning permission, as the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal, saying it has to be judged under the old less stringent UK climate targets and does not have to meet the current targets! If planning inspectors approve the scheme, the government will still have the final say. The outcome of that case was disappointing, but the reason is even worse!  However, the case does confirm that new applications need to comply with the current UK climate targets. This may have implications for large building schemes and even the conservative target of 300,000 new dwellings every  year without end.

Death by Air Pollution

Dangerous levels of air pollution has been listed as a cause of death for the first time in the UK, in a landmark result, following a two-week inquest at Southwark Coroner’s Court. Dangerous levels of air pollution “made a material contribution” to the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah in London in 2013, a coroner has ruled following a second inquest into the child’s death. In a detailed conclusion lasting almost an hour, assistant coroner Philip Barlow said: “I will conclude that Ella died of asthma, contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution.” It is shocking that we have to instruct schools to reduce playtime outside because the air is poisonous and not even measure their walk to school. What is your Council doing about it? If we thought EU fines for air pollution were unwanted, risking prosecution by our own courts for deaths would be worse. Let’s get our councils and communities to tackle clean air - big time.

Working with Europe

It might be Christmas,  but there is a lot to do as councils prepare for Brexit as well as manage changing tiers, uncertainty over Christmas arrangements and preparing for seasonal severe weather events. Ministers ask us to be ready for both a “deal” and “no deal”. The effective border for checks is between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The sticking points remain fishing, where I would like to see us build up our fishing stocks, and the ability to change UK regulations without penalty.  At the LGA, we have called for keeping the European regulations, which means we do not accept USA agricultural products such as beef with hormones. (You may remember we successfully campaigned against the Transatlantic trade investment partnership (TTIP) with the USA a few years ago.)

We have also been asked to assist those who are trying to get their settlement papers in order by June 30th - not easy if the app isn’t working for you! Care leavers and looked after children are our responsibility. Any personal data of Europeans needs registering, and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has a helpline: 0303 123 1113.

Procurement will change. Next year will probably be a good time for a policy of more local purchasing. Thanks to Cllr O Brien for submitting an example from Lewes, called the “Community wealth” initiative. We are calling for innovative recovery ideas from you, and if you would like to, please share them.

Ports and borders may face significant delays if papers are not prepared before vehicles leave their home base. Extra funding for infrastructure and staff has been provided to some ports. Extra vehicles may be needed to move essential medical supplies. Currently the focus is on getting the exports certified and out, but there will be just a few import checks. Where you have particular concerns about this, please let us know.

Looking forward

Many of us will be moving well towards elections, if not done so already, as we have the biggest number of polls in years on May 6th. The election opens six weeks earlier on 25th March 2021. The LGA has done several “be a councillor” events for your new candidates and will be doing more in January. It's time to make sure you have the December electoral registers and designed your campaign. Using the Christmas period to phone people you know to keep in touch and you may - like me - be putting thousands of Christmas contact cards and letters out through doors, in a way which is obviously COVID-safe. We have a number of churchyard carol singing events, Christmas window competitions, hamper deliveries and online concerts and quiz socials, so plenty to do in the community!

I hope you have a lovely break over Christmas and the New Year. Wishing you and your family good health and every success through 2021.

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


7th January, 2pm - LGA Independent Group Budget Setting Workshop. This will provide some guidance and a chance to discuss your council’s budget setting process. Please email the group office to reserve your place.

22 Jan, 10.30am – LGA Independent Group Be a Councillor Candidate School – an interactive workshop for those standing for election in May with a focus on communications, campaigning and media. Register your interest by emailing More details will be circulated shortly.