Group bulletin: 4 February 2022

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local government association - independent group

Group bulletin

4 February 2022


Wishing all colleagues a Happy Friday,

News on levelling up

The LGA Independent Group’s network meeting on levelling up will be held on Monday 7 February at 3pm, if you would like to find out more and join the discussion please email

On Wednesday, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, now under Michael Gove, unveiled a levelling up plan to “transform the UK” – although the plan doesn’t include any new funding to achieve this transformation.

The White Paper sets out twelve “missions” for completion by 2030, which include an increase in pay, more equally spreading wealth and health, improved public transport, 5G and education, as well as the rejuvenation of town centres and rented housing, a reduction in crime and expanding devolution. Whilst these are all good intentions, it misses anything specific and joined up on tackling climate change. Wholesale “economic development” without proper regard to the environment will end up costing communities and future generations, undermining any efforts to ‘level up’.

Nine county deals were proposed alongside a commitment for all areas who want a devolution deal to have one by 2030 (in eight years). However, Government continues its assumption that a single individual with all the power is more accountable and deserving of power and money than a group of elected councillors who represent and know their local people. New regional civil servant 'Levelling up Directors' were announced, with the remit of streamlining the links between the national and the local, as well as a new performance framework, ostensibly to measure levelling up but with the likelihood of creeping into monitoring and measuring councils.

The Government has not had time to legislate for us councillors to meet online and improve the resilience of our decision-making, but have had time enough to create two new bodies to report on the performance of Councils, one reminiscent of the old, expensive Audit Commission, with its weighty tick-box assessments that we previously discarded as bureaucratic and ineffective.

On planning, there is a move away from building more affordable housing in the South and South East to a greater volume of housing building in the Midlands and the North. We will have to wait to see how this interacts with the expected changes in planning.

The 'levelling up' agenda is said to be about equality, but the Guardian reported "Some wealthy areas of England to see 10 times more funding than poorest". It found that affluent areas held by ministers will see a larger share of the Levelling Up Fund, for example £148 per head to Sajid Javid’s constituency of Bromsgrove and £98 per head to Nadine Dorries’ constituency of Central Bedfordshire. In contrast, eight local councils who are among the poorest in England receive less than £10 per head, including Swale, Tendring, Southampton and Knowsley.

According to the Rural Economic Bulletin for England, June 2021, 17 per cent of our population live in rural areas, but the White Paper is silent about the needs of those in these areas. Indeed, it sets back the promise of 100 per cent of gigabit-capable broadband coverage from 2025 to 2030. There is also an absence of consideration for our colleagues in Wales, and across the rest of the UK.

The LGA’s Levelling Up White Paper: LGA briefing provides more information and some initial reactions.

COVID-19 rules going

Now that the long-awaited Sue Gray report has been released, we find it redacted and passed to the police for investigation, which could take a long while. In the meantime, it is clear that parties were hosted in the PM’s personal flat and at Number 10 whilst you and I would have faced significant fines for doing the same. We dutifully avoided close contact, even with loved ones, for the benefit of others. With credibility shot, it seems the rules are being quietly forgotten. The revelations also make plans to sack unvaccinated NHS workers untenable, and we see the launch of the consultation on removing vaccination as a condition of deployment for health and social care staff.

Planning in practice

Expansion of Bristol Airport: North Somerset

Independent Group member Councillor Don Davies has bravely fought against the expansion of Bristol Airport, and yet central Government planners overturned the decision. Previous Independent Leader of Uttlesford, Councillor John Lodge, led a similar battle against expansion at Stansted; and the Aviation Environment Federation are leading a campaign on challenging airport expansion.

Housing numbers

While the Levelling Up White Paper suggests a redistribution of the housing numbers required towards the Midlands and the North, some councils are scrapping their local plans. A recent refusal in Sevenoaks – given to a planning application for a new 800-dwelling housing estate on a golf course on the Green Belt – was upheld at appeal.

Housing delivery test

After much controversy, the new housing delivery test has been announced, with 100 councils now needing to produce an action plan. If you would like to know more please join one of the LGA’s Planning Advisory Service webinars.

Biodiversity consultation

The Consultation on the Biodiversity Net Gain Regulations and Implementation, which currently allows woodland to be replaced with a packet of wildflower seeds, has also been launched for you to have your say.

Big tax news this week

The majority of councils will be putting up council tax by the maximum amount calculated by the Government as permitted without a referendum. Without it, there would be a hole in their budget. To ease the burden on residents as energy prices rise, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced rebates on Council Tax for homes in bands A to C. Doing it through Council Tax rather than directly through the already extant benefits system might mean the Government support could be dropped in future, leaving councils in the firing line.

Recognising that energy bills are rising by up to 50 per cent, and assuming it is a temporary increase, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is loaning money to energy companies who will then pass on a £200 handout to all domestic electricity customers for one year.

Councils support asylum seekers

Independent Group council leaders raised concern at our fortnightly meeting over the unannounced arrival of asylum-seekers in local hotels. This puts pressure on councils to find resources to meet their needs on top of the £4.7 million a day being spent on hotels by the Government. Working with the voluntary sector is vital to provide integrated activities and support.

Business grants

Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sector can check if they are eligible for the Omicron Hospitality and Leisure Grant, which provides support to businesses that have been most impacted by the Omicron variant. Do encourage your businesses to apply.

Webinar: Addressing low vaccination take-up in your community – understanding what works

Wednesday 9 February, 1.30pm
This LGA webinar with the NHS COVID-19 vaccination programme will also be an opportunity to focus on the role for local government in encouraging and promoting vaccine take-up, including for underserved populations, as we move into the next phase of recovery from the pandemic. We will provide an overview of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, including work to tackle barriers to vaccinations. Common myths regarding vaccines and how best to approach misinformation amongst communities will also be addressed.

Group events

Please email to reserve a place at any of the following Independent Group events:

Monday 7 February, 3pm
Our People and Places, and City Regions, think tanks will be coming together to digest what the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper means for local government.

Tuesday 8 February, 11am
LGA Independent Group spotlight event on: High Streets – Death by Permitted Development? Hear from the Town and Country Planning Association on their research into permitted development and discuss the impact this is having on your areas, to inform the LGA’s work in this area.

Register for the below 'Standing for election at a new unitary authority' event via our online form

Monday 14 February, 3.30pm
We will be holding a meeting for Independent Group members seeking election at one of the new unitary authorities this year. Come along to share advice and tips.

I hope that is helpful. Thanks for all your good work,


Councillor Marianne Overton MBE signature

Councillor Marianne Overton MBE
Leader of the Independent Group
Vice Chair of the Local Government Association

Portrait photo of Councillor Marianne Overton, Leader of the LGA Independent Group