29/11/2019

LA Spotlight 

A general election is days away…

With days to go to the General Election much has been made of some of the high profile policy announcements. With the manifestos now published the first impression is that local government business needs to continue with the medium term pressures of finding funding sources and delivering differently not being helped by the respective parties’ promises. However, recent work by the Resolution Foundation highlighted that the average size of the public sector (in GDP terms) has been 37.4% over the last two decades. However, both Conservative and Labour policy announcements suggest an increase above 40% with the Labour plans, especially on economic reform and climate change to 45%.

Such changes are likely to see some flows of money (and expectation on delivery) pass to local government. Alongside these broad numbers a few standout manifesto promises look like transforming the work of local government and lawyers in the years ahead. To take a few (and in some policy areas such as climate it can be argued that policies are going to develop rapidly in the months ahead) of the three main parties that may impact councils the following stand out:

Conservative Party

  • Previous commitment to 33% spend with SMEs has been replaced by a commitment to ‘support start-ups and small businesses via government procurement and commit to paying them on time’.
  • Introduce voter ID.
  • English Devolution White Paper to be published in 2020.
  • ‘Towns Fund’ including a £150m community ownership fund and £250m cultural capital fund.
  • £1bn per year in extra funding over 5 years for social care
  • Net zero by 2050.
  • £640m new Nature for Climate fund.
  • First Budget will prioritise the environment.
  • Invest £9.2bn in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals.
  • £1bn per year in extra funding over 5 years for social care.
  • £28.8bn for road including £1bn for fast charging network and £500m a year for four years for filling potholes.

Labour Party

  • Presumption in favour of insourcing.
  • Reduce the voting age to 16.
  • Regional Development Banks will set priorities for lending.
  • National Transformation Fund Unit, a key part of the Treasury, will be in North of England.
  • Build up the regional offices of government in each of the nine English regions.
  • Commitment to One Yorkshire.
  • Directly elected mayors more accountable to local councillors and elected representatives.
  • Free schools and academies back under local control.
  • Green Industrial Revolution including Green New Deal.
  • Aim to ‘achieve the substantial majority of our carbon emissions reductions by 2030’.
  • £250bn Green Transformation Fund.
  • Comprehensive National Care Service for England.
  • £150bn Social Transformation Fund for schools, hospitals, care homes and council houses
  • New social housebuilding programme of more than a million homes over a decade.
  • Free full-fibre broadband to all by 2030. Establish British Broadband. Bring the broadband-relevant parts of BT into public ownership.

Liberal Democrats

  • Provide a supportive framework to develop social enterprises.
  • Create a statutory duty on all local authorities to produce a Zero Carbon Strategy, including plans for local energy, transport and land use, and devolve powers and funding to enable every council to implement it.
  • Introduce a capital £50bn Regional Rebalancing Programme for infrastructure spend across the nations and regions of the UK.
  • An emergency programme to insulate all Britain’s homes by 2030.
  • Invest in renewable power so that at least 80% of UK electricity is generated from renewables by 2030.
  • A programme of installing hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK – with a particular focus on connecting rural areas.

We await any winners’ initial Queen’s Speech to see what is in store.

 

 

Commercialisation

Local authority income generation

Local authority borrowing has been in the spotlight this month and in particular, borrowing to invest in income generation schemes, itself a controversial subject (Forest of Dean quits £50m retail deal).

The LGA has published its revised local authority finance – funding gap analysis following the 2020/21 funding package as per the 2019 spending review. There is no surprise that cost pressures continue to remain at critical levels for all key services - how is income for innovation and quality improvement for frontline services to be raised, to prevent the widespread static investment authorities are currently facing?

Authorities continue to develop bespoke arrangements to seek to solve this long standing predicament. North Yorkshire County Council’s trading arm (North Yorkshire Education Services acquires schools HR service) continues to grow - this arrangement requires the reinvestment of surplus income back into support for front line community services. There is also a real diversity in such schemes (Reel progress for state of the art TV and film studio in Leeds as contracts signed). The pressures, however, that such schemes place on local authority borrowing will continue to be tested.

 

Publications & Guidance

A system in crisis? Ombudsman complaints about special educational needs at alarming level
Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman | 4 October 2019
Children with special educational needs and disabilities are increasingly being failed by the system designed to support them, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found. The new report, ‘Not going to plan?’ looks at the common problems the Ombudsman is finding when investigating parents’ concerns. Serious issues include severe delays of up to 90 weeks – and regularly of more than a year – when issuing a plan, not anticipating local needs, communication and preparation for meetings, and a lack of oversight by senior staff.

Increasing conflict and hardship behind rise in struggling families needing support from councils
Local Government Association | 5 November 2019
A rise in family conflict and hardship is behind the heightened pressure on child protection services, according to a new survey of councillors responsible for children’s social care by the Local Government Association. With more children being referred for urgent child protection support, councils are increasingly having to divert cash away from early intervention services, which can tackle problems for children at risk before they get worse, into the services that protect children at risk of immediate harm.

 

News

https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Technical%20annex%202%20-%20cost%20pressures%202019.pdf
LGA

ALMO funding issues prompt move to insource housing services
Room151 | 17 October 2019
The only arm’s-length management organisation to oversee homes in multiple councils faces closure with all the councils involved intending to take the service directly in-house. East Kent Housing (EKH) serves Canterbury City Council, and Dover, Folkestone & Hythe and Thanet district councils. Canterbury and Dover have already decided to leave the ALMO and the other two councils were expected to take the same decision this week.

Forest of Dean quits £50m retail deal
Room151 | 17 October 2019
Plans by a Gloucestershire council to invest £50m in a retail development have been abandoned due to the rise in government lending rates. Forest of Dean District Council had been exploring the option of investing in the Cathedral Square development in Worcester to generate revenue that could plug a £1.2m shortfall caused by government funding cuts.

Council to re-direct £5.5m to 'inadequate' children’s services
LocalGov | 18 October 2019
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has approved plans to invest £5.5m into its children’s services following an ‘inadequate’ rating from Ofsted earlier this year.

North Yorkshire Education Services acquires schools HR service
North Yorkshire County Council | 30 October 2019
North Yorkshire Education Service (NYES) continues its growth across the UK in the education sector with the acquisition of a dedicated schools HR service. NYES is the trading arm of North Yorkshire County Council, providing a wide range of council services developed specifically for the education market, including facilities management, professional services and education and learning support. Surplus income generated by NYES is reinvested in the community to support front-line services provided by the County Council.

Councils awarded £500,000 for digital technology innovations
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | 31 October 2019
Councils have been awarded over £500,000 for projects exploring the use of digital technology to improve local public services. Seven digital technology projects have received grants of up to £100,000 from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Local Digital Fund. The digital research and development projects will look at improving the efficiency of the planning system, predicting demand in children’s social care and enabling better information sharing to drive improvements in local services.

'Two years' to turn Stoke-on-Trent children's service around
BBC News | 31 October 2019
Turning around Stoke-on-Trent's inadequate children's services may take more than two years, a review said. A rise in children going into care and an overspend "by £8m for a number of years" were among several issues raised by a government trouble-shooter. The council must partner with a better performing authority by 31 January.

Reel progress for state of the art TV and film studio in Leeds as contracts signed
Leeds City Council | 31 October 2019
The next steps to securing a new TV and film studio in Leeds have been completed as Leeds City Council has agreed a lease on the old Polestar Petty Printwork site to enable the operator, Versa, to convert the premises into a state of the art facility. Earlier in the year the council’s executive board approved a decision that the council would take a head lease of the property from Caddick Group, who are currently refurbishing the building, and then sublet to national operator Versa Studios who would in turn convert the buildings into six new studios ranging from 8,000 to 22,000 Square Feet. This week, contracts have been signed between Leeds City Council and Caddick Group, and the council has also received approval to loan Versa £1.6m to complete external acoustics work which will now start ahead of opening the studios in 2020.

Stoke-on-Trent CC given three months to improve ‘inadequate’ children’s services
LocalGov | 1 November 2019
The secretary of state for education has issued a statutory direction which gives Stoke-on-Trent City Council three months to establish a partnership with another council to deliver children’s social care. Ofsted rated Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s children’s services ‘inadequate’ earlier this year, prompting the council to invest £5.5m into over 130 new social care posts. A four-month review by the children’s commissioner Eleanor Brazil has concluded that the responsibility for managing children’s services in Stoke-on-Trent will remain with the city council while a further review is carried out.

DfE orders 'inadequate' council to find improvement partner by January
Children & Young People Now | 1 November 2019
A struggling children's services department has been given until January to identify another council with which it can enter into a formal partnership to help turn around provision.

School transport under threat as bill set to rise to £1.2bn by 2024
Local Government Association | 1 November 2019
Unsustainable costs and demand pressures are set to push councils’ bill for providing free home to school transport to £1.2bn a year by 2024, new analysis by the LGA reveals. A new report by the Isos Partnership, commissioned by the LGA and County Councils Network, reveals the cost to councils of providing home-to-school transport has increased by £66m over four years between 2014/15 and 2017/18 and projects it may rise by a further £127m to reach £1.2bn a year by 2024.

 

Cases

Bexley council failed to learn from previous school transport complaints
Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman | 10 October 2019
London Borough of Bexley has been heavily criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after it failed to make agreed improvements to the way it decides school transport applications for children with disabilities. While the council implemented some of the changes, the Ombudsman still has concerns about the council’s understanding of the statutory guidance and its role and duties in deciding transport applications.

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Place & Growth

The regenerating power of the Commonwealth Games

With nearly three years to go until the starting line of the Commonwealth Games, you may ask what progress Birmingham has made in preparing itself for the world stage. 

With most major sporting events, speculation about whether facilities and infrastructure will be ready on time seems virtually par for the course. Refreshingly, this is not the case with the 2022 Commonwealth Games as a great majority of the sporting venues are already in place.

This is not to say there is not work to be done. In fact, the Games are proving the catalyst for a host of works and improvements that will benefit communities in the Midlands for years to come. Works are underway on an athletes’ village that will subsequently be turned into 1,400 new homes, preparation has begun for a new Aquatics Centre, construction begins next year to reopen the Camp Hill train line for the first time since the Second World War, and three rapid Sprint bus sprint routes are being created.

The first priority must be to ensure that these and other developments are successfully completed on schedule. However, the fact that preparations are well advanced means that the Midlands can also concentrate on maximising the impact of showcasing itself to the world. An influx of visitors will bring a short-term revenue boost, and the long-term focus must be to attract more people to settle in the region and for more business investment to strengthen the Midland’s economy.

 

Legislation

Government introduces ground-breaking Environment Bill
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs | 15 October 2019
The Environment Bill has been introduced to Parliament. It will help maintain and improve environmental protections after leaving the EU. Environmental principles will be enshrined in law and measures will be introduced to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats.

 

Publications & guidance

Consultation to enhance legal support for those facing eviction or repossession
Ministry of Justice | 4 October 2019
The government is consulting on proposals to change the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme. The aim of these proposals is to ensure that the Scheme is sustainable into the future, in order to maintain this vital service for those who need it. Submit views via online survey. Consultation closes: 3 January 2020.

Houses in multiple occupation and residential property licensing reform: guidance for local housing authorities
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | 9 October 2019
Updated guidance for local housing authorities on extending mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation. An addition has been made to 2.7 Implementation to include an encouragement of join up between planning and licensing teams at local authority level.

Space to Breathe
Campaign to Protect Rural England | 11 October 2019
Analysis in Space to Breathe: A State of the Green Belt Report  found that in the past decade, only one in ten new homes built on land released from the Green Belt are considered ‘affordable’, showing that building on the Green Belt is not the solution to the affordable housing crisis’. The charity recommends the adoption of ‘brownfield first’ policies. 

Statutory Homelessness in England
House of Commons Library | 15 October 2019
This briefing paper provides statistics on statutory homelessness in England and explains local authorities' duties to assist homeless households. The paper includes an overview of, and comment on, Government policy in this area.

Building regulations and fire safety: government response to the Select Committee report
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | 21 October 2019
The government’s response to the Select Committee's report on 'Building regulations and fire safety: consultation response and connected issues'.

The Route to Clean Growth: Using local industrial strategies to drive change
Localis | 23 October 2019
Local areas have seized the initiative on climate change. Two hundred and thirty local and combined authorities in England had declared climate emergencies by July 2019. The challenge now is for local policy makers to translate this momentum into co-ordinated action across all areas of their local economies, including energy, transport, buildings, land use and manufacturing. As places draw up their local industrial strategies, there is an opportunity for local leadership in a just transition to a zero-carbon future. Produced in partnership with the Green Alliance, The Route to Clean Growth explains how industrial strategies and other local powers can be used to attract the industries of the future and build resilience in a world increasingly affected by climate change and environmental decline.

LGA report: Attracting investment for local infrastructure: a guide for councils
Local Government Association | 28 October 2019
A new guide published by the Local Government Association and Department for International Trade (DIT) provides advice on how councils can use their unique position to attract private and foreign investment into local areas. Councils have a key role in securing investment in infrastructure. Vital assets such as roads, homes and public buildings provide critical support to local economies and can unlock a community’s potential, enabling residents to access new education, skills, and work opportunities. This local investment is a vital part of the UK’s international success.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report
Grenfell Tower Inquiry | 30 October 2019
Report of the public inquiry into the fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017.

Grenfell Tower Fire: Background
House of Commons Library | 29 October 2019
This briefing sets out the Government response to the fire at Grenfell Tower which broke out on 14 June 2017, including details of the building safety programme, public inquiry and recovery taskforce.

Regulator of Social Housing publishes rents consultation response
Regulator of Social Housing | 31 October 2019
The Regulator of Social Housing has published the response to its consultation on proposals to introduce a new Rent Standard from 1 April 2020.

Blueprint for 100 multi-million pound Town Deals revealed
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | 1 November 2019
The Towns Fund prospectus paves the way for a new generation of Town Deals to regenerate town centres, boost businesses and improve infrastructure. The Towns Fund prospectus provides information to councils in 100 places chosen to pioneer Town Deals – they will receive a share of £16.4m capacity funding to kick-start their innovative plans and bring their communities together. Each place will have the opportunity to bid for funding of up to £25m as part of the government’s £3.6bn Towns Fund.

Investigation into Starter Homes
National Audit Office | 5 November 2019
The NAO has published its investigation into starter homes and the impact of the government’s investment. It found that no starter homes have been built to date, the legislative provisions are not yet in force and the MCHLG no longer has a budget dedicated to the delivery of starter homes.

Rating Retention: Options for redesigning the business rates retention system
New Economics Foundation | 6 November 2019
This paper presents options for reforming the business rates retention system, assuming local tax sources remain as they are currently. Given the wide disparity in local economic conditions, it is likely that whatever revenue sources local government has access to, there may be a need for some form of redistribution mechanism.

 

News

Norwich council houses win Stirling architecture prize
The Guardian | 8 October 2019
The prize for the best new building in the UK has been awarded to one of the first new council housing projects in a generation. The first time in the 23-year history of the Stirling prize that it has been awarded to social housing.

Key city centre sites to be transformed by government investment
Cabinet Office | 10 October 2019
Two key city-centre sites are to be regenerated as part of a government programme designed to boost regional growth and save taxpayers’ money. Developments in Birmingham and Peterborough will provide city centre bases for thousands of civil servants in a boost to local businesses

Council injects £3.4m to fund film studio plans after Brexit blow
Room151 | 17 October 2019
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham has agreed to find £3.4m to keep development work going on a planned film studio complex after its California-based preferred partner for the project got cold feet. Pacifica Ventures, the film studio developer, had an exclusivity agreement with the authority over the redevelopment of part of the former Sanofi pharmaceuticals site in Dagenham after it was selected last year. But the exclusivity deal has ended and borough regeneration chiefs said Brexit uncertainty was to blame for the company’s decision not to push ahead to the agreed timescale.

Sefton Council approve Santander’s multi-million pound investment in Bootle
Sefton Council | 17 October 2019
Sefton Council has formally approved plans for a £75m investment in Bootle. The Council’s Planning Committee approved proposals by Santander UK to redevelop their Bootle campus and create a new, sustainable, state-of-the-art facility. The multi-million pound complex will be home to over 2,500 staff and become the contact centre and operations hub for Santander UK. A new public park and new pavilions will be created as part of the plans, which will be open to the local community. The building will accommodate sporting and social facilities, with a retail offer accessible to employees and the wider public. The new campus is scheduled to open in 2022.

Joint venture unlocks ‘biggest brownfield’ site in the Black Country
LocalGov | 21 October 2019
Former industrial land in Sandwell is set to be the site of a 750-home community after a deal was struck by the local council and the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). A joint venture between Sandwell Council and WMCA purchased the site from Midlands Land Portfolio Ltd, the property development arm of Severn Trent plc. The area, located in Friar Park in Wednesbury, is the equivalent of more than 32 football pitches which makes it the biggest brownfield housing site in the region. The WMCA, of which Sandwell is a member, will fund a clean-up of the land, which has been home to a hospital and iron foundry in the past. A masterplan for the site will then be developed, with community consultation, before development partners are brought on board.

Support local industrial strategies to ‘promote a zero-carbon economy’, think tanks say
LocalGov | 23 October 2019
The Government must support local industrial strategies, with new funding and devolved powers, to promote a zero-carbon economy, according to the Green Alliance and Localis. The think tanks say that although more than 230 English local authorities have declared 'climate emergencies', most have only just begun to consider the changes that will be needed. Their report says the slow implementation of industrial strategies is putting local areas with the greatest need of economic revival at risk of missing out on clean growth development opportunities. It says this will imperil the Government's national target to achieve net zero carbon emissions.

£38m Homes England funding to speed up development of over 2,000 homes
Homes England | 24 October 2019
Government housing agency Homes England has agreed funding deals worth £38.2m with six local authorities to speed up the construction of at least 2,072 homes across the country. The deals are the latest to be awarded through the Government’s £450m Local Authority Accelerated Construction (LAAC) programme, which was launched to help unlock public land and increase the speed of delivery on local authority housing schemes.

Next generation of new towns and economic growth opportunities to be developed
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | 26 October 2019
New development corporations will kick-start work towards creating new towns and communities. New funding totalling £10m will enable councils to develop locally-led proposals to deliver more new towns.

Development corporation reform: technical consultation
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | 26 October 2019
This consultation seeks views on the effectiveness of the legislation governing development corporations.

This consultation closes at 11:45pm on 21 December 2019.

Attracting investment for local infrastructure
Local Government Association | 28 October 2019
Infrastructure plays a critical role supporting local communities and the local economy. It can unlock an area’s potential, enable residents to access new education, skills, and work opportunities, support local retail and business areas, and increase the viability of new sites for homes and businesses.

Blueprint for 100 multi-million pound Town Deals revealed
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | 1 November 2019
The Towns Fund prospectus provides information to councils in 100 places chosen to pioneer Town Deals. They will receive a share of £16.4m capacity funding to kick-start innovative plans and bring communities together. Each place will have the opportunity to bid for funding of up to £25m as part of the government’s £3.6bn Towns Fund.

Bristol clean air diesel ban plan approved
BBC News | 5 November 2019
Bristol is set to become the UK's first city to ban diesel cars from entering parts of the city centre in a bid to cut air pollution. Bristol City Council has agreed to ban privately owned diesel cars from a central zone in the daytime. Commercial vehicles will pay to enter the area. The city has long suffered from poor air quality, particularly from high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The scheme, which needs government approval, is due to start in 2021.

Council sets out plan to build 1,000 social homes
LocalGov | 12 November 2019
Nottingham City Council has committed to building or buying 1,000 council houses and creating thousands of new jobs over the next decade. Councillors have signed off on the local authority’s 2019-2023 plan which sets out the councils priorities and ambitions for the next decade. The plan commits the council to building or buying 1,000 council or social homes for rent, as well as creating 15,000 jobs in Nottingham.

 

Cases

Haringey and Islington councils criticised for how they recovered business rate debts
Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman | 17 October 2019
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has criticised two London councils for the way they tried to recover historic business rate debts. Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, said: “While councils have every right to pursue people who do not pay their tax or business rates, they should also do this without undue delay and not let debts drift to such an extent. Any decision to pursue an historic debt should be based on sound evidence it is fair, appropriate and reasonable to do so.

London Borough of Southwark v Royce & Michael Sinclair Royce and Viviane Laure Nicoue [2019] UKUT 331
Appeal by the London Borough of Southwark, as landlord, against the Decision dated 21 January 2019 of the First-Tier Tribunal Property Chamber (Residential Property), determining the liability for, and the reasonableness of, service charges payable by the first and second respondents as tenants.  The service charges relate to the replacement of underground pipe work for the supply of heating to the respondents’ flats as part of the replacement of a district heating scheme.  The hearing of the appeal took place in London on 22 October 2019. See also London borough fails in Upper Tribunal appeal over services charges and heating system renovation from Local Government Lawyer.

Simawi v The Mayor and Burgesses of the London Borough of Haringey [2019] EWCA Civ 1770
Court of Appeal rules statutory provisions governing succession to secure tenancies did not discriminate unlawfully against Mr Simawi because of his status.

CPRE Surrey v Waverley Borough Council; POW Campaign Ltd v Waverley Borough Council and another [2019] EWCA Civ 1826
The Court of Appeal agreed with the decision of the High Court that a local plan inspector had acted within the bounds of reasonable planning judgment in determining the objectively assessed need for the area of Waverley Borough Council correctly, by including 50% of neighbouring Woking’s unmet housing need. Lord Justice Lindblom, with whom Lord Justice Patten and Sir Ernest Ryder agreed, said the Local Plan inspector’s relevant conclusions in his report were “logical, coherent and unassailable in a legal challenge”.

See also Borough council wins Court of Appeal battle over Local Plan and objectively assessed need from Local Government Lawyer.

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Governance & Reorganisation

The impact of purdah

If you hadn’t already noticed, campaigning for the general election is well underway, which means that everyone’s favourite (and often misunderstood) convention has also taken hold (Purdah). Purdah is often confused with the provisions restricting publicity under the Local Government Act 1986, and the code of publicity made under the same. The former is not set out in law but is a ‘self-denying ordinance’, whereas the latter is of course derived from statute.

The provisions of the Act apply at all times, with particular caution to be exercised around publicity during the pre-election period. Whereas purdah only applies during that period. Purdah also stretches beyond ‘publicity’ and requires Councils, their Members and Officers to refrain from making decisions, policy announcements or appointments which are significant and could be politically contentious.

Although the outcome of the election will have no (immediate) bearing on the membership of local government, caution must still be exercised, particularly in what is undoubtedly a very fractious and politically charged environment, and we have been providing advice on its application to a number of local government clients.

Councils may find it useful to refresh their knowledge around this difficult area by reference to the Cabinet Office General Election Guidance 2019, and the statutory Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity.

 

Legislation

Buckinghamshire councils: direction
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | 11 October 2019
A direction to Buckinghamshire councils regarding contracts to be entered into. The MHC&LG has issued a direction to the five Buckinghamshire councils to be dissolved on 1 April 2020 providing that they are able to enter into certain contracts only with the consent of the shadow unitary Buckinghamshire Council. Made under section 24 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 and coming into effect from 17 October 2019.

 

Publications & Guidance

Building Communities Prospectus Launched
Northamptonshire County Association of Local Councils | 5 October 2019
Chief Executive Danny Moody, announced the publication of the Building Communities prospectus, which sets out the role of parish and town councils in the context of unitary local government. Northants CALC wants to design a relationship between unitary councils and parish and town councils that focuses on people and place and becomes a benchmark of good practice nationally.

CIPFA launches new Financial Management Code
CIPFA | 11 October 2019
CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, has launched its Financial Management (FM) Code, to drive improvement in financial management for councils across the United Kingdom.

The new Code is the first from the Institute in almost 15 years, and brings together many areas of local government financial management into one place. It follows extensive engagement with senior leaders in public finance from across the country.

Elections report: May 2019 European Parliamentary elections and local elections
Electoral Commission | 18 October 2019
Among issues which impacted on people’s confidence in the elections, most notable and regrettable were the issues experienced by some citizens of other EU member states living in the UK who wanted to vote in the European Parliament elections in the UK. We highlighted similar difficulties to government after the 2014 European Parliamentary elections and made recommendations for change. It is unacceptable that people eligible to vote should be frustrated from doing so, and deeply regrettable that this was not acted on and resolved by the UK government.

State of the State 2019-20
Reform & Deloitte | 22 October 2019
Annual assessment of government and public services in the UK. The report explores the challenges and opportunities facing public services and broader society. This year's survey uncovers public concerns for the environment and the next generations’ future.

Local government finance and the 2019 Spending Review: response to the select committee report
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | 25 October 2019
This is the government response to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s report on local government finance and the 2019 Spending Review, published 21 August 2019.

Government must examine alternatives to broken Business Rates system
Commons Treasury Select Committee | 31 October 2019
The Government must explain whether it is deliberate that, since Business Rates were introduced in their current form in 1990, the revenue they have generated has outpaced inflation. Throughout this inquiry, the Committee has been told that Business Rates do not fall upon all business equally, for example, they place a far greater cost on physical businesses, such as those on the high street, than those that rely more upon an online presence. Tweaking the current system of Business Rates through an increasingly complex web of reliefs does little to address the negative aspects of this tax and simply demonstrates how broken the system is. Business Rates are an important source of revenue but the Government must explore alternatives to address their negative impacts.

Local government in England: capital finance
House of Commons Library | 31 October 2019
An introduction to capital finance and borrowing by local authorities in England, including details on the Public Works Loan Board, bonds, and tax increment financing.

Review of local authority financial reporting and external audit: call for views
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | 5 November 2019
The independent review led by Sir Tony Redmond is seeking views on the quality of local authority financial reporting and external audit. Closing date extended until 5pm on 20 December 2019.

Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments
Home Office | 5 November 2019
Consultation on measures to criminalise trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales. This consultation closes at 11:59pm on 4 March 2020.

English local government funding: trends and challenges in 2019 and beyond
Institute for Fiscal Studies | 13 November 2019
This report looks in detail at councils’ revenues and spending, focusing on the trends and choices taken over the last decade. It also looks at the outlook for local government funding both in the short and longer term. And finally, it looks at the impact of the BRRS and NHB on different councils’ funding so far, to see whether there are lessons to guide reforms to these policies.

 

News

Parish council in indefinite hiatus after all councillors resign over abusive calls and hate mail
Local Government Lawyer | 11 October 2019
A parish council near Manchester is in limbo after all its councillors resigned blaming their decision on abusive phone calls and hate mail. A statement on the Carrington Parish Council website from the former councillors said: “It was a difficult decision for all councillors to make, however over the last few months council members have been subject to anonymous phone calls, abusive phone calls, homes being watched, personal details being shared and disgusting hate mail. “These incidents have been reported to the police and are being monitored. The levels of vitriol that have been aimed at the council have caused an untold amount of stress and anxiety on all our members. Unfortunately it has reached the point that all the councillors feel their positions are no longer tenable.” All responsibilities will now be held with Trafford Council.

Blueprint sets out vision for local government
Leicestershire County Council | 11 October 2019
A detailed road map setting out the benefits of re-shaping local government in Leicestershire has been published. The draft, 100-page blueprint compares different options and concludes that one, single unitary council – bringing together the eight county and district councils - offers the best opportunity to save money, reduce duplication and protect front line services. Last summer, council leader Nick Rushton, said he wanted to “start a conversation” about re-drawing local government in the county.

Leader of Harborough District Council slams scheme to axe the authority
Harborough Mail | 15 October 2019
Cllr Phil King hit the warpath after Leicestershire County Council said a controversial new ‘super council’ should be set up.

Hard choices: how the PWLB rate rise could hit councils’ service budgets
Room151 | 17 October 2019
The local government sector reacted to last week’s hike in the Public Works Loan Board interest rate with emotions ranging from dismay to anger. As finance directors raced to re-evaluate their spending plans, the Local Government Association warned the move “presents a real risk that capital schemes, including vital council house building projects, will cease to be affordable and may have to be cancelled as a result.” This week, however, ratings agency Moody’s said it does “not expect the sector to cancel or postpone the majority of these projects as they fulfil important statutory duties”. Anticipating councils will choose to bear higher interest costs on their planned capital projects, Moody’s issued a “credit negative” judgement on the sector. But pressing ahead with schemes could also mean revenue budget cuts leading to service reductions, according to sector experts.

Northants reorganisation stalled amid election
LocalGov | 8 November 2019
Plans to reorganise cash-strapped Northamptonshire County Council have stalled amid the general election.

Legislation to turn the county and its seven districts into two unitaries failed to pass before parliament was suspended.

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Contract Management

Outsource or insource?

Public procurement is currently the government’s largest expenditure.  Recent reports have highlighted an estimated £842bn being spent on external suppliers of goods and services by the British Government between 2016 and 2019. Outsourcing and public procurement continue to be the big ticket issues, but with £14.3bn being spent on managing poor procurement, the policy makers and contracting authorities need to look at how costs can be minimised in the future. 

Ensuring good management processes and robust remedies within the contracts goes someway to being able to control these costs.  However, one council has chosen to take control of delivery of services.  Haringey Council has announced that the direct delivery of council services by council staff will be the ‘official default choice’ under a new policy agreed last month.

The policy commits the council to a strategic insourcing review of all commissioned services when contracts come up for renewal and the development of a framework and implementation plan for in-house delivery of services over the longer term. The Council argues it will create more jobs within the local authority for local people, broaden the range of skills held by the council workforce, and ensure it gets the maximum value for taxpayers’ money.  Acknowledging that an almost 40-year national drive towards outsourcing is not going to be an easy task, the Council is committed to delivering local services for local people and making sure that every penny achieves highest benefit for the community. 

Meanwhile, it has been reported in the Telegraph that Boris Johnson is planning a ‘bonfire’ of red tape to help small businesses bid for billions of pounds of government contracts once the UK leaves the EU next year.  The Prime Minister is said to be working up plans for an overhaul of procurement rules, including axing rules which require the Government to award contracts to companies based on the lowest price.

But according to IFS research, Councils will need billions of extra pounds worth of funding in the next parliament if they are to meet the rising costs of adult social care.

Whilst it is clear there is no agreed solution to the current spending, performance or funding issues, whether authorities choose to continue to outsource services to local or national organisations or to take an insourcing approach, control of contract and performance management will still need to be at the forefront of delivery of services to maintain budgets and to achieve best value for money.

 

Publications

Value Added: How better government procurement can build a fairer Britain
Demos | 20 October 2019
Procurement is the UK government’s largest expenditure, valued at £284bn. Influencing how this money is spent represents a significant opportunity for government to shape the nature of the wider economy. The report suggests that more deeply embedding social value into the procurement process for the provision of goods, works and services could help tackle aggressive tax avoidance.

A councillor's guide to procurement: 2019 edition
Local Government Association | 22 October 2019
The National Procurement Strategy puts the councillor role front and centre and this guide has been produced specifically with councillors in mind. It looks at the roles councillor’s play - both executive members and those engaged in overview and scrutiny work - and provides hints and tips on how to get the best out of procurement and contract management. Just as in the national strategy the focus is on delivering the council’s objectives.

The Price of Poor Procurement
Reform Public Spending | October 2019
Between 2016 and 2019, the British government spent an estimated £842bn on external suppliers of goods and services. Reform examined the official investigations conducted between June 2016 and July 2019 into public procurement and outsourcing. The £14.3bn cost of poor procurement and outsourcing raises two key questions for policymakers and interested parties: how can this additional cost be minimised in future, and which projects require heightened independent scrutiny to achieve this? A third important question is: who holds government and providers to account when things go wrong?

ICO publishes new guidance on special category data
www.ICO.gov.uk | November 2019
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published new detailed guidance on special category data, aimed at data protection officers and those with specific data responsibilities in larger organisations, as well as updated its guide to data protection regarding special category data. Ian Hulme, director for regulatory assurance at the ICO, describes special category data as the most sensitive personal data and highlights that the ICO expects controllers to take all necessary precautions to protect this data. A template appropriate policy document is also available.

 

News

Hull aiming to be one of the smartest cities in the world
LocalGov | 10 October 2019
A new partnership between Hull City Council and smart city operator Connexin is set to put Hull amount “the world leaders in smart city technology”.  The agreement will see the delivery of the UK’s first purpose-built Smart City Operating System, linking services across the city, including waste management, traffic and parking.

 

Cases

Ocean Outdoor UK Ltd v The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham [2019] EWCA Civ 1642
The Court of Appeal has dismissed a procurement challenge, upholding a decision that lease of land was not a concessions contract. This is the first appeal to consider the Concessions Contract Regulations. Local Government Lawyer discusses further: Court of Appeal dismisses procurement challenge over award of leases for land housing outdoor advertising structures

In ACON Equity Management LLC v Apple Bidco Limited, the court construed the wording ‘without default or penalty’ narrowly, in accordance with the natural meaning of the words. The word ‘default’ was construed as an event of default under the relevant contract, and the word ‘penalty’ as a sanction applied due to a breach of an obligation under the contract Lexis PSL and New Square Chambers (subscription only) discuss further.

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Disputes

Renovation capable of interrupting relevant period for enforcement action

Earlier this month, the London Borough of Islington successfully overturned a planning inspector’s finding that a development was immune from enforcement action in the High Court (Islington v SoS for Housing Communities and Local Government).

In 2017, the Council rejected an application for a certificate of lawfulness of existing use concluding that there had not been four years of continuous residential use and proceeded to take enforcement action.

On appeal, a planning inspector concluded that the property had been in continuous residential use for more than four years, including during renovation, and that the material change of use had occurred more than four years before the enforcement action.

The Council challenged the Inspector’s decision and the Court found that the Inspector had misdirected himself in law on the question of whether the land had been used actively as a residential property for a continuous period of four years and was immune to enforcement action under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The Court accepted that the correct approach was as stated in Swale v Borough Council v SoS for the Environment which established that a building in which the owner had ceased residential use but who intended to resume residential use at a later date, was not in active residential use.

Therefore, in this case, during a three month period of refurbishment in which (as accepted by the applicant) the property was uninhabitable, it was not in active residential use.

This case raises an important point of law for decision-makers on their approach to periods when a property is unoccupied, and will assist local authorities seeking to resist appeals where a property has been unoccupied due to renovations during the relevant period for taking enforcement action.

 

News

Families lose high court challenge over children's special needs funding
The Guardian | 7 October 2019
Families who launched a landmark legal challenge to the government’s funding of services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) have lost their high court case. Three families, representing thousands of others across England, brought the action claiming that government budget decisions had left local authorities unable to fulfil their legal obligation to provide education to children with Send. In a judgment handed down on Monday, however, Mr Justice Lewis ruled there was “no unlawful discrimination” in the way the government made provision for Send funding and dismissed the families’ claim for judicial review.

Woman with involuntary vocalising medical condition given permission to bring judicial review over noise abatement notice
Local Government Lawyer | 22 October 2019
The High Court has granted a woman who suffers from a medical condition which results in her involuntarily vocalising sounds, words or phrases permission to bring a judicial review challenge over a council’s decision to serve her with a noise abatement notice. Durham Council served the notice on Ms Fisher in November 2018 under s.80, Environmental Protection Act 1990 1990, requiring her to stop making the noises, which are often profane, and giving her one hour to comply. Landmark Chambers said that Ms Fisher will argue that the service of the notice amounted to unlawful discrimination contrary to ss.15 and 29, Equality Act 2010. She also contends that there had been a breach of s.149, Equality Act 2010 and Arts.8 and 14, ECHR.

Government revises housing delivery test result after council brings High Court legal action
Local Government Lawyer | 29 October 2019
The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has revised its Housing Delivery Test result for Lewes District Council following a successful legal challenge by the local authority. Lewes had issued High Court proceedings against the MHCLG after the publication of its annual housing delivery test results in February (2019), which indicated that the council had only delivered 50% of the housing required under its adopted local plan over the previous three years.  The consequence of delivery falling below 85% is a requirement to add a 20% buffer to a council’s five-year housing land supply. “This would have resulted in the council losing its five-year housing land supply and, as a consequence, its local plan would be treated as ‘out of date’ and irrelevant when determining planning applications. Neighbourhood plans over two years old would also effectively become redundant,” Lewes said.  The MHCLG has now accepted the evidence put forward by Lewes and a revised Housing Delivery Test result of 86% has been issued. Cllr Emily O’Brien, Cabinet Member for Planning at Lewes District Council, said: “The decision to issue proceedings was not taken lightly, but they were necessary to safeguard our local plan.

Campaigner crowd funds legal action over decision by council to allow expanded oil drilling
Local Government Lawyer | 7 November 2019
A local campaigner is seeking to crowdfund the money needed to launch a judicial review of Surrey County Council’s decision to allow expanded oil drilling near Horley. Sarah Finch said she had objected to the application for four more oil wells and 20 years of production at Horse Hill, which she said was “wrong because of the climate emergency” and because of earthquake risks and the impact on Green Belt. She said such expansion would make Horse Hill the second largest onshore oil production site in the country. Ms Finch noted support from Marc Willers QC from Garden Court Chambers, Estelle Dehon from Cornerstone Chambers, and solicitors from law firm Leigh Day.

Unoccupied properties and immunity from enforcement action
Local Government Lawyer | 8 November 2019
Lang J has held, in Islington v Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government [2019] EWHC 2691 (Admin), that an Inspector misdirected himself in law on the question of whether land had been used actively as a residential property for a continuous period of four years and was immune for enforcement action under section 171B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Council vows to defend legal challenge over grant of permission for mixed-use scheme including football stadium
Local Government Lawyer | 12 November 2019
Luton Borough Council has said it will “vigorously defend” a legal challenge brought by a property investment company over the local authority’s decision to grant planning permission for a mixed-use gateway scheme that would help delivery of a new 23,000-seater stadium for Luton Town Football Club. The council’s development control committee resolved on 11 March 2019 to grant planning permission for the Newlands Park planning application. It was then referred to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government who chose not to “call in” the application. The council issued the final decision following the signing of the S106 legal agreement on 24 September 2019. Lawyers representing Capital & Regional then notified the council of its intention to launch a legal challenge into the decision.

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Events

Healthcare Estates Breakfast Briefings
Leeds                     4 December 2019 

Throughout 2019 and 2020, we are running a series of Breakfast Briefings focusing on key themes affecting healthcare estates. Our specialist lawyers will be joined by guest speakers at these engaging and interactive sessions, designed to explore issues of relevance to those involved in healthcare estates, whether in acute settings, in the community or in the provision of mental health or primary care and whether in the NHS or private sector.

 

Employment Law Update
Bristol                    3 December 2019 
Birmingham           4 December 2019
London                  11 December 2019 
Leeds                     12 December 2019

The theme will be one that is always popular: recent decisions and developments from case law, government policy and legislation, and what’s on the horizon that employers need to know about.

We will be covering a broad range of relevant issues including working time (holiday pay and obligations to record time); IR35; cases on whistle blowing, disability discrimination, restrictive covenants and collective bargaining; ‘just culture’; and the latest on settled status applications.

Following the formal session, there will be time for discussion and knowledge sharing between the speakers and delegates, enabling an exchange of views and insight into employers’ experiences and practice.

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