Independent Group Leader's Bulletin: 19 February 2021

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local government association - independent group

Group Leader's Bulletin

19 February 2021


Dear Colleagues,

Electoral Commission Election Guidance – Have your say       

Here is our chance to feed into Electoral Commission guidance for this May.  We have been in touch with the Commission and members are now being invited to complete a survey before the closing date on the 8 March – this will inform a FAQ which the Commission are keeping updated.

As you know, I have made representations to the relevant Ministers and await their response on the doorstep ban. Locally members are raising their concerns with local police and legal advice is being sought on the standing of the Minister's letter in January. One view being utilised by some is that leafletting by volunteers is voluntary work that cannot be reasonably undertaken from home, and therefore potentially allowed via the coronavirus guidance. For this activity to be an exception, it would need to be established that the information couldn’t be shared in a different way – the Minister's position is that it can be done online, something we know doesn't reach everyone. This might be a loophole, but must be assessed on a case by case basis and many of our members are advising the local police of their plans first. The cost of posting at around 55p per leaflet, is such that it would be illegal since even one mailing is greater than the maximum allowance for many of us. (£806 per electoral area and 7p per elector, bit more in London.)

Statutory instruments have now been laid regarding nominations for council and GLA elections and the other elections taking place in May. These reduce the required signature from 10 to a proposer and seconder for council elections and reduce it to 66 for London Mayoral elections with two signatures required per London borough and the City. To stand for election for local authority mayors you will need two electors, a proposer and a seconder; for combined authority mayors this changes to twice the number of local authorities within the combined mayoral electoral area and within that number two electors from each local authority area; and finally for the election of police and crime commissioners twice the number of local authorities within the police area.

We continue with our Be a Councillor events, and I would encourage you to consider holding an event for prospective candidates locally. The office has a range of resources to help. The Greens and the Independent Network are also holding sessions, the latter is having another tomorrow at 11am, which you are welcome to attend.


I and other Group Leaders at the LGA met with the Schools Minister this week Nick Gibbs, raising our concerns about the reopening of schools and how they may be addressed. We called for the vaccination of school teachers before they go back, so far rejected. To ease concerns about the reliability of home testing of children, it is suggested staff oversee the first three tests. We raised concerns about the proximity of secondary children on the school transport. The next call will focus further on the need to support teachers and schools with the significant job ahead in helping children catch up – academically, socially, physically and emotionally; The importance of recognising the Early Years Sector was raised and the clarity we need to help us successfully reopen schools, including two weeks to prepare and home to school transport guidance.   

Health and Care Integration

As you may have seen, the government has published its White Paper on health and social care. It falls short of the long-term certainty we've been calling for in regards to care funding but instead prioritising another NHS restructure, a restructure of the very service that has performed so well. The LGA briefing picks up on our points that although welcome, action speaks louder than words!

Plans aim to improve working within the NHS and between the NHS and local government, by sweeping away the Clinical Commissioning Groups and creating new bigger bodies called the Integrated Care Service. The plus is that would include local government, but also put requirements on councils to co-operate possibly by contributing resources. That might then govern a secondary body which is rather like our Health and Wellbeing Boards, with broad membership. Feedback from members has flagged how patchy joint working currently is, the NHS answering to the Secretary of State and we answering to our residents. While we welcome genuine approaches to co-produce new partnerships, we must be equal partners. Our role as leaders of place must also be recognised and utilised. We are happy to work with the NHS but must stay separate to it.

Key Cities network

Key Cities, a national network representing almost half of the UK's urban areas has four new local government areas joining the organisation; Bath and North East Somerset, Exeter, Lincoln and Wrexham, making 25 members.

Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport, the EEHT Board

This week our EEHT Board met, with members discussing climate change, fire safety, flooding and transport, amongst other things. Our Think tank discussions on the think tank on how to measure success, if not by GDP is fascinating. The drive for massive house-building not connected with what local people can afford is driven, I believe, by the desire to increase the apparent GDP. Is this is the best measure of our success? The Dasgupta Review says not – what do you think?

Sweeping the "local" out of local planning?

Concern about changes to local planning control are still widespread. A consultation on the new National Planning Policy Framework is live until the 27 March. Things have gone quiet as we enter an election period, but the sweeping planning changes taking decision-making towards a centrally-driven algorithm has not gone away.  The way in which the 300,000 new dwellings every year are distributed has altered, lulling party supporters for now. However, under new proposals, the Council’s Local Plans, their rule book, will be centralised into the National Planning Framework. Thus councils will not decide whether development happens or not, but will still have the joy of making it "beautiful" - within the developer's cost constraints of course.  And there is a proposed algorithm for that too, called the "model design code". They are seeking your views on that now. I attended and have notes from the over-subscribed briefing for Councils. There will be ten pilots, each getting £50K for testing the model design code.

When is state aid a good thing?

Minister Kwasi Kwarteng MP recently set out a new system of subsidies for UK businesses, as the EU State Aid rules are lifted. The new principles allow the four governments of the UK to use public funds for companies to support "UK policy objectives, levelling up economic growth in the regions, tackling climate change and supporting our economic recovery". It cannot, however, be used to enable unfair competition between countries, nor bail out unsustainable companies, we hear. That sounds to me like a very fine line. The 8-week consultation is to the 31 March. Please see the rules under which councils can give subsidies. Should party donations be declared, for example? Let me know what you think.

Next Generation

Finally, wishing all the best to our Next Generation cohort who have their final module this week.

Many thanks for all your excellent work. It is the Independent Group members that listen, engage and respond to what residents need and want. Tough though it can be, we focus our efforts and enjoy it along the way!  Let me know if I or our brilliant team of members and officers can help with anything.


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

Events for the diary

The Green Economic Recovery

22 February 2021, 10.30am – 12.00pm 

The LGA are organising a webinar on The Green Economic Recovery as part of their Economic Growth sector-led improvement offer. 

Applying behavioural change techniques to the COVID-19 and climate emergency responses

23 February 2021, 10.00am – 11.30am

This webinar will look at how we can use behavioural change techniques in council services to work with communities and change their behaviour.  

Design in the Public Sector: creating meaningful engagement with communities on climate change

26 February 2021, 10.00am –11.30am

This is the first in a series of four webinars run by the LGA in partnership with the Design Council as part of the Design in the Public Sector programme 2020-21.

Greener Living: What impact has the pandemic had on local climate action?

16 March 2021, 1.00pm – 3.30pm  

In partnership, Solace and the LGA are pleased to be delivering this exploratory webinar where we will discuss the impact that COVID-19 has had on local climate change reduction action plans.

Free online Commercial skills masterclasses for councillors

The LGA is running a series of free online masterclasses across February and March to support councils as they refocus commercial activity impacted by COVID-19 and changes to investment guidance by CIPFA and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. These include a new masterclass to support councillors to confidently and robustly communicate commercial activity to external audiences.