Independent Group Leader's Bulletin: 29 January 2021

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local government association - independent group

Group Leader's Bulletin

29 January 2021


Dear friends and colleagues,


Lifting restrictions over Christmas was followed with an increase in new infections of over 50,000 a day, for four days in a row, with hospitals overflowing. It is hard to see that there is a plan for dealing with the virus and foreseen problems seem to come as a surprise and responses later than advised.  

It is a very worrying time, with a heart-wrenching 100,000 COVID deaths, the hardest-hit in Europe. I am sure you will want to join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to all who are suffering. Thankfully the situation is improving, with vaccinations being rolled out as fast as they can. It is clear the three rules of keeping space, face covering and washing hands remain vital, with or without the vaccination. The national lockdown guidance is here.

Election guidance

Just before my newsletter went out last week, new guidance was issued by the cabinet office on election campaigning, including the very clear steer that “the Government’s view is that these (COVID-19) restrictions do not support door to door campaigning or leafleting by individual political party activists.” We have raised concerns about this and the impact it might have on a level-playing field given the reliance we place on these activities as candidates. I wrote to both the Cabinet Minister, Chloe Smith and Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick and continue to call for a quick decision on the postponement of local elections. If we take the government at its word, they are currently sticking to holding the elections on 6 May 2020, so we must be ready. Maximise your social media use so residents know what you’re doing and nothing stops you talking to residents on your daily walk (socially distanced of course!)

One piece of legislation they did have time for was the Statutory Instrument, which changes the spending limits for candidates. The limit increases from £740 per electoral area and 6p per elector, set in 2014, to £806 per electoral area and 7p per elector.  Chloe Smith, Minister of State for Constitution and Devolution, issued a public statement on campaign spending limits for candidates in local elections in England in line with the change of the value of money since they were last amended in 2014. The change in spending limits applies for the May 2021 elections.

Remote meetings

I also wrote this week to the Secretary of State about remote meetings and the legislation we need to protect this option beyond 7 May 2021. Thank you to all of you who have also shared your thoughts with Sarah and policy officers here, as the LGA puts forward its view, bolstered by your experience across our countries.

LGA in Europe

It was the 70th anniversary of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions on Thursday this week. Local Government across all of Europe pre-dates governments working together in the EU and is showing signs of strengthening. A third of the councils are not in the EU, making this an important forum to share good practice and make recommendations to the EU and to our own governments, based on a thorough understanding of the issues across the patch. We also have an international division, working with the world local government body (UCLG) and the UN, where I am the representative. A summary of achievements and list of future events is available here.

LGA tackling the big issues nationally

Many thanks to our Environment Board and County Councils Network members who met this week. Our county members set out their priorities and discussed with the Minister our group’s concerns around the election and remote meetings, as well as business rates on second properties, rather than council tax. Elsewhere work is underway to ramp up the LGA’s work on climate change, ahead of this year’s COP26, and our members are directly informing our lines on adaption and mitigation as well as the ambitions we need to instil in our councils and government departments to challenge the status quo. Many thanks to our think tank members who contributed thoughtfully this week. We will be bringing members together soon to gather more views on how local and central government can harness our recovery from this pandemic to better our planet.


On the LGA website there is a range of e-learning modules and workbooks designed by members for members. Do take a look and utilise this helpful resource. Online training modules include Equality and Diversity, licensing, planning, scrutiny and influencing skills.

Passing of one of our Valiant Councillors

Thanks to Chris for sending us this tribute to his colleague and friend, who seems to have shared a fighting spirit characteristic of members of the Independent group.

Blanche Douglass was an Independent Mole Valley District Councillor for the Ashtead Common ward for 25 years retiring in 2004. She was Chairman of the Council for 1999/2000 and enjoyed immensely her time as Chairman at the turn of the century. I remember her Chairman's dinner being held in the Ashtead Peace Memorial Hall - she was a long-standing Ashtead resident and was very proud to say so - a wonderful supporter of all things Ashtead. She was currently President of the Ashtead Residents Association in which she was actively involved.

Blanche was seen as a powerful, determined and formidable Councillor for Ashtead in her time on Mole Valley District Council and served on many of the committees of the time with distinction. Her straight-talking was always her strength and she was well respected by all councillors and officers alike. Blanche will be sorely missed by all who knew her - Ashtead has lost a valuable asset!!

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

Be a Councillor Event Series

The LGA Independent Group ‘Candidate School Programme’ is open for registration, with a number of virtual events happening across February and March. You can view details of the events and access the registration link on the Candidate School Programme web page. Please pass this on to any prospective candidates in your area.

Managing conflict and hostile conversations - 26 February 2021, 11am – 1pm

As Councillors or prospective candidates you are likely to have many difficult conversations – with opposition members, the public, officers, the press and within your groups – and it’s important to handle them well. This interactive workshop with provide insight into different thinking styles, tips for dealing with hostility and the important role of self-belief. Places are limited so RSVP as soon as you can.

Free: Communicating commercial activity masterclass for councillors – Wednesday 3 March 2021 (10am – 12.30pm)

The LGA is running a free two-and-a half-hour Zoom masterclass to support councillors to develop the skills to confidently and appropriately communicate commercial activity to external audiences. Many councils are refocusing commercial activity that has been impacted by COVID-19 and changes to investment guidance by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and CIPFA. It is important that elected members have the skills to communicate key messages about commercial activity to a range of external audiences. The masterclass includes best practice guidance from a local authority communications expert and council case studies demonstrating how communications teams have worked effectively with elected members to communicate the key messages of council commercial activity to external audiences. Book your place via this online booking form, or for further information visit the commercial skills for councillors web page.