Independent Group Leader's Bulletin: 26 March 2021

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local government association - independent group

Group Leader's Bulletin

26 March 2021



Yesterday we completed our ninth campaign training event in the run-up to the elections, attended by almost a hundred candidates. The mix of professional trainers, experts and leading councillors was very useful. The evening with Martin Bell OBE, Independent MP, war correspondent and winner of mastermind was also inspiring, just as we need a boost! The notes and records are available to attendees on request. Huge thanks to all taking part including our cracking good speakers and trainers.

Our pressure on central government

Our LGA Independent Group fought hard and successfully to get back the right for COVID-safe door-knocking and leafletting in this election. That’s important for those of us who rely on local connections to get elected locally, rather than the unfair national TV coverage of the Conservative or Labour party.

We also campaigned to get the right to continue the option of voting in online meetings, but the Government decided not to include remote meetings for councils in the continuation of covid legislation passed yesterday. We shall be keeping up the campaign, but for now, from 7 May, the law reverts to requiring councillors to vote in person. To enable social distancing, meetings could be held in a sports hall or other venue, in preference to reducing committee sizes. Lawyers in Local Government, the Association of Democratic Services and Hertfordshire County Council have made an application to the Courts to declare that councils already have the powers needed to hold online meetings. The LGA will be providing support in these proceedings as the representative body for councils.

How are we doing?

Thanks also to everyone who completed our survey about how the Independent Group is matching what you want. The results were very positive with some useful ideas.

In response to 'What does our Independent Group do well?' Producing online resources, lobbying government, delivering virtual meetings on key policy issues, providing peer support and encouraging more people to stand as a councillor were your top responses. Other things included timely email updates, delivering relevant skills workshops, online development programmes, support through the group office, networking opportunities, Leaders meetings, sharing best practice and standing up for Independents.

'What should we do more of', reflected the above, especially networking opportunities, with members valuing the opportunity to come together. There was nothing suggested to do less of.

To be a more effective councillor, members suggested taking up skills training opportunities, working to get a bigger group within our councils (which we are supporting through our Be a Councillor campaign and candidate school), support to improve member/officer working and mentoring by an experienced councillor, all of which are on offer.

Other comments received were very positive, with good points for us to take up. For example:

  • Keep up the good work, but please, more relevance to Cymru/Wales.
  • The voters need a better understanding of the qualities needed properly fulfil the role of councillor.
  • We definitely need high quality candidates.
  • Such lovely people.
  • You do a brilliant job, thank you.
  • Thanks for doing such a great job - stunning!

Public Health Conference

At the LGA, we marked the year since the first lockdown with an excellent Public Health Conference, hosted by the LGA and the Association of Directors of Public Health.

Professor Chris Whitty paid tribute to local government public health pointing out how central we have been to the effective operation of test, trace and isolate, influencing the public to reduce the disease spread. He also raised the importance of partnership working and the value of commercial research being geared to public benefit. The Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock MP announced the creation of the new UK Health Security Agency and with less fanfare, but just as important, a health promotion strategy. The speakers were excellent and my comments are available on our website

Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy: A £1 billion dent

In case you missed it, last week the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng launched the Government’s Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, setting out a blueprint to deliver the ‘world’s first low carbon industrial sector’. This builds on the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution published last year. The Strategy pledges to create and support 80,000 UK jobs over the next 30 years, whilst cutting emissions by two-thirds in 15 years. It seems they plan to carry on growing without end, increasing energy consumption overall, but switching 40 per cent to low carbon energy sources by 2030.

There is heavy pressure to increase wind turbines offshore, and onshore as a cheaper option, whereas we need a broader range of initiatives, such as rafts between he offshore turbines creating wave power and increasing marine diversity and fish stocks. It also includes industry to capture, store and reuse carbon and hydrogen.

Reducing emissions from public buildings is funded and proposals to measure the performance of industrial buildings and introduce carbon pricing. Big grants go to greater Manchester Combined Authority, Leicester City, Hertfordshire County, Hull teaching hospital. Other grants to Merseyside, Teeside, Humber and South Wales.

I attended a useful meeting on Net Zero Innovation, held by the LGA and University College London. Notes will be available from the office. This is part of the LGA’s Net Zero Innovation Programme launched last year.

Waste and recycling

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is consulting on a new Waste Prevention Programme for England. The consultation is considering priorities for the management of resources and waste, including preventing waste by increasing reuse, repair and remanufacture of products. Please share any views by 10 June.

For example, can we get deposits on all packaging? How about fees on packaging, extended producer responsibility? Can we get to a circular economy with zero waste? What regulations do you want to see changed? Please share your comments with the office.

New Homes Bonus consultation now

The New Homes Bonus was money sliced off the central government grants and distributed according to how many new dwellings a council could get built. The 'incentive' goes largely to the district and borough councils who give permissions, with a smaller amount to the county council which has the greatest need. The government has now a powerful leverage in requiring the high numbers of dwellings to be built through the Local Plan, so the 'carrot' is probably now less effective than the 'stick'. They want to raise the threshold of new dwellings before any payment cuts in to make councils give developers more permissions with fewer strings. The real problem for residents is getting more services and facilities to match the additional needs and not damage the character of their home areas.  What the New Homes Bonus does not do is require dwellings to match the needs of local people, nor to help us reach net zero emissions. The Future of the New Homes Bonus consultation is open until 11:45pm on 7 April 2021.

Local Elections May 2021

Government has now published the Pre-election guidance for public bodies (pdf) ahead of the May elections. A reminder that you can continue to visit the LGA election hub to find out what you need to know about publicity during the pre-election period.

The Electoral Commission has also published an updated version of their Verification and count guidance for the upcoming elections. The guidance now includes more information on the management of counting agents and advice to support Returning Officers. The guidance confirms that ballot papers do not need to be quarantined before the verification and count commence. Guidance for the full range of electoral processes can be found on the Electoral Commissions Guidance to support May 2021 elections webpage.

The Department for Health and Social Care has written to councils and Local Resilience Forum PPE leads to confirm that hand sanitiser will be provided to all local authorities at no cost in the usual ppe request process. DHSC will also be offering free Type II masks for use as non-clinical grade face coverings in election settings. The masks may be used for anyone entering an election setting but must not be used in any other settings. Candidates an voters are expected to have their own face coverings.

Yesterday, the Cabinet Office Elections security team published a set of guidance for elections including security information for candidates and guidance on common cyber attacks, which groups might find helpful.

Supporting newly elected councillors

Immediately after the election, the LGA and group office, supported by our peers, will be inviting all newly elected councillors to attend virtual welcome events. There will also be other resources available for new members and those who find themselves newly in leadership positions. Please encourage all of your newly elected councillors and colleagues to take advantage of the support on offer.

Group Elections

This year our group elections will be held electronically, all roles – Leader, Deputy and Treasurer are up for election. Further details will be shared via first magazine, on our website and via bulletins.


A reminder that the deadline for Honours nominations to go in is Tuesday 6 April. If you need the forms or advice on how to complete the nomination form please let the office know.

Thank you

As many of us now enter the pre-election period I wanted to say a huge thank you for all you do for our residents, our councils and our country. Our Independent Group members never fail to inspire those whose lives we touch.  I see a better future where we have many more councillors elected and determined to do the best job possible for all, Independent and working in partnership in a healthy democracy.  Together we are steadily growing our number at every election. We are growing our influence at the LGA and through the LGA to governments in UK and abroad to gradually create a better world, rooted in our communities. Together we have achieved a great deal and there is much more we can do.

Thank you to Sarah Woodhouse, Noleen Rosen and Aimee Wittams-Smith, an inspired team who have done a great job. Thank you to my Deputy Clive Woodbridge and Treasurer, Paul Woodhead for excellent support. Thank you to all our leading councillors and to our group Executive members who have helped steer our successful ship so far.

Good luck in the forthcoming elections. Congratulations on all that you have achieved and good wishes in all your next endeavours.

Let me know if I 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