Independent Group Leader's Bulletin: 12 February 2021

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local government association - independent group

Group Leader's Bulletin

12 February 2021


Dear Colleagues,

Life is hotting up for us now with government centralising powers away from local people in proposed sweeping changes to the planning system, health and care, government reorganisation and now elections. This is while tackling COVID, climate change and Brexit continues.


On Elections, we have been loud and clear about the unfair government “opinion” which means that donor-funded party political leaflets are allowed to be delivered through doors while your local Independent Group Councillor can be fined for putting an information leaflet through the same door! The Select Committee met this week and we briefed our Chairman of the LGA who made representations, calling for a free post and the ability to doorstep campaign. As Leader of the Independent Group on the LGA, I will be writing directly to the Chairman of the Select Committee. We have also insisted we need to inform forthcoming guidance by the Electoral Commission. With the government’s ‘roadmap’ out of the current lockdown due on the 22 February, further clarity might follow then.

I have also written this week to the PM, the Secretary of State and the minister Chloe Smith. Independent groups across the country such the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and Independent Network have also been vociferous, writing to ministers and copying to their local media, adding to the swell of public opinion. Yesterday on a webinar with the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick and ministers, it was recognised that we want fair elections and informed residents, but an insistence that lockdown means no hand delivery of leaflets by candidates, only by commercial enterprises. We must instead ensure our online presence is strong while we fight these restrictions.

A template letter and copies of our letters of objection are available from the office. Our press statement can be found on our website and I also wrote a piece for the Local Government Chronicle. The Independent Network also made a public statement.  Do share a link to any statements you make.

You might also have seen that earlier this week, legislation was laid before Parliament amending the number of nominations required to stand for election, which we have been calling for given the limitations posed by COVID. Further guidance is promised in mid-February.

NPPF and National Model Design Code

We raised a series of concerns about the new National Planning Policy Framework, where new National Policies are expected to mean that local policies are no longer needed. Also Government dictated numbers of new dwellings must be accepted.  The number of required new dwellings were shuffled and the very unpopular proposals put on hold until after the elections. This useful research paper is worth reading. The government’s commitment remains to build houses at a faster rate than ever. This has little regard for what people can afford, nor what services can be provided.  Only the house-builders have welcomed what others see as “shameful”, and a “disaster” and a “naked ideological assault on local democracy”.

Fundamentally, the proposal takes the planning largely out of local influence. Central government makes the policies and a tick-box exercise done by the developers gives them their permissions. Local councils are then largely reduced to looking at design to make them “beautiful”.  This is especially worrying, when we have seen the same Secretary of State override local decision-making processes to give planning permission on the Isle of Dogs to a party donor - permission that was subsequently withdrawn.

If we want to improve planning, we need to increase influence from local people, not reduce it. The new National Policy Framework is out for consultation until 27th March. Let me know what you think.

Our Climate Conference on the 23rd March

Our Independent Group has a significant conference coming up on Climate Change. Who would you like to hear from? What key areas should be on the agenda? Please let us know.

The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review

The drive for massive house-building not connected with what local people can afford is driven - I believe in part at least - by the desire to increase the Gross National Product or GDP.  Every time permission is given on a greenfield site, sold, then built and sold, the country’s GDP goes up. But are we better off overall? While the human capital has increased, the natural capital has been devastated. Is this is the best measure of our success? The Dasgupta Review says not – what do you think? The catch will be in valuing natural capital at a high enough figure to enable it to survive.

E-learning platform

The LGA’s new e-learning platform is now live. Please help us spread the word and reach as many councillors as possible with this new resource.

Councils’ role and T Level industry placements

T Levels are a new technical qualification which give young people (16-19) an opportunity to study alongside carrying out a 45-day industry placement in a workplace. We are encouraging councils to offer T Level industry placements to help provide young people in their area with an opportunity to gain vital work experience in a variety of roles. If you would like to learn more or want to register your interest please visit the LGA’s website.

Best wishes to you all. Please join me in taking every opportunity to contact your local media at this time. There are big issues here and your local voices are needed to add to the groundswell standing up for local people in the face of centralisation.

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