Pickles calls for more parishes

As if to prove my point regarding Eric Pickles hatred of local government, he’s continuing his campaign to rid the country of local government, be it district, borough, county, or even unitary. I’ve long believed that the campaign to encourage quality parish councils, was part of central government’s ambitions to rid itself of the unruly brat called local government.

Let’s not forget that, unlike district councils and above, parish and town councils have to get all of their cash from local taxpayers via a precept. Also, very few, if any, of those elected to this the lowest level of local democracy, receive allowances. This combination of very limited funding, untrained and un-remunerated members and little in the way of professional staff, means that most of these councils spend their time fretting about very, very local issues, such as the length of the grass on verges or why the streets aren’t being swept more often.

Pickles and co are seeking to distract local people into thinking that they are having a real say in what’s going on locally, because they now have their own parish, or town council. This whilst also starving higher level councils of cash as a way of turning them in to no more than front men for central government policies. Westminster will then be able do what they like, without the inconvenience of being challenged by those in local government.

Given the continued uncertainty that we all suffer when it comes to our income and the cost of living, what chance is there that the people of Spalding would be willing to possibly double the amount of council tax they pay as the Spalding Special Expenses, in order to set up a Spalding Town Council?

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online 31 October, 2012 | By Kaye Wiggins

The Department for Communities & Local Government has set out a range of proposals that aim to make it quicker and easier for local residents to set up parish councils.

Following a call from communities secretary Eric Pickles to “remove red tape” around the creation of parish councils to “give local people a real sense of community control in their areas”, the department has set out a series of ideas that will be open for consultation until January.

In its consultation document, the department said: “We want to tilt the balance in favour of community groups, where there is the demonstrable support of a majority of local people. Where local people express popular support for the creation of a town or parish council, the local authority should work with the community to achieve that.”

The plans set out three possible routes to achieve Mr Pickles’ vision and are summarised below:

Option 1: Changing guidance

Guidance “could strongly encourage authorities to complete the process in less time”

It “could make it clear that the right weight should be given to what is effective and convenient for the local community, separately from for the local authority itself.”

It “could propose that as a matter of good practice, the local authority could carry out a review of a decision not to create a town or parish council if campaigners want one.”

Option 2: Legal change

The number of signatures required to force a council to consider an application for a parish council to be set up could be halved.

The DCLG document notes: “The disadvantage of this option is that lowering the threshold for a petition triggering a community governance review runs the risk that petitions which do not have sufficient community backing will be considered, potentially wasting resources or leading to the creation of a council which is not wanted by the local community.”

The timescale for a “community governance review” – the process by which a parish council would be considered – could be shortened to six months. Alternatively there could be a single limit of nine or 12 months for the whole process, from the receipt of a petition

Councils could be required to publish timescales linked to the electoral cycle, so that if a parish council is approved there would not be a delay caused by the wait for the next election.

Option 3: Neighbourhood forums

A neighbourhood forum could submit an application to trigger a community governance review, rather than having to submit a petition with the required number of signatures.

How transparent is Eric Pickles? – no don’t laugh, I’m serious

As soon as I wrote the title, I realised that there are two answers; completely and not at all. Completely, because most of us in local government can see right through him, with all his bluster, BS and almost pathological hatred of local government. Not at all, well, just read on.

Copied from comments on: http://conservativehome.blogs.com/localgovernment/2012/10/your-chance-to-question-eric-pickles.html#IDComment477030847

HowardKnight commented on Your chance to question Eric Pickles – Local Government:

Dear Eric

You are a proponent of transparency. So, could you explain why I still can’t get a response to some FOI requests I made to DCLG in April 2011? It isn’t that lots of research would be required, as the information requested was readily available.

After numerous holding responses, I was forced to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner, who issued a Decision Notice in February 2012 stating “…….the Information Commissioner does not accept that in the circumstances of this case it is by any measure reasonable to have taken such an extended period of time to consider the public interest test. Accordingly he has determined that DCLG has failed to comply with its obligations under FOIA. This is a breach of section 17(3) of FOIA.”

Despite this, the information requested has still not been provided. This month, the Information Commissioner has advised me that DCLG had persistently failed to provide information requested by the IC and that DCLG had been threatened with an Information Notice in order to secure a response.

Does transparency only apply to others? Why is DCLG persistently failing to meet its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act?

This email was sent by IntenseDebate

Details of funding help for councils suffering

Copied from Local Gov Chronicle online
Minister considers further funding for worst hit
30 October, 2012 | By Ruth Keeling

MPs have appealed to ministers to extend transitional funding support for a handful of councils worse affected by the government’s cuts programme.

Ministers have promised to consider the plight of a dozen district councils facing cuts of up to 29.3% in their core funding next year as transitional funding set aside for the first two years of the spending review dries up.

Graham Jones (Lab), MP for Hyndburn and one of the areas affected, said 10 of the 12 districts were among the most deprived in England and all of the dozen faced a reduction of 22% or more “despite the chancellor’s suggestion in the Autumn statement of 2010 that no authority will suffer cuts greater than 8.8%”.

Describing the scale of the cuts as “cruel”, Mr Jones called on the government to include the transition funding in the funding baseline which will be set as local government moves from the existing funding formula to a system of partially retained business rates.

Local government minster Brandon Lewis (Con) said the grant was “only ever intended as a one-off, temporary funding stream. Councils will have realised that from the fact it was referred to as a transition grant”.

Mr Lewis also said the new funding system would “create direct links between rates collected and local authority income, thereby increasing the financial incentive for local authorities to drive economic growth”, although Mr Jones argued the councils concerned would need funding to invest in the “infrastructure, skills and apprenticeships” needed for local economic growth.

The minister said the department’s consultation on the business rate retention scheme had elicited a number of responses relating to the transition funding. “I am actively considering all the views that we have received from across the piece for the need for transitional relief funding for 2013-14” in the December settlement, he told MPs.

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And we thought Steppinstone Bridge was bad!

Rail bridge lights out for five years and counting

A pedestrians’ foot bridge has been left without lights for five years because repairs have been delayed for safety reasons. Hampshire County Council said it was waiting for permission from Network Rail to carry out the repairs.

Telegraph p16

LGN & LocalGov Newsletter – More cuts to come

23 October 2012
Council leaders warn further cuts ‘certain’
James Evison

Further council cuts are ‘absolutely certain’, local authority leaders in the north of England have warned.
The news comes ahead of the end of the local government grant settlement next March, with the Government currently consulting on new financing arrangements beyond April 2013.
Local authorities are due to discover the settlement in December, but it is widely anticipated that a further two years of spending cuts will be required for council budgets.
Preston Council deputy leader, Cllr John Swindells, claimed the council have ‘probably cut as close to the bone as we can’ – and any further savings will result in services being affected ‘deeply’.
Durham CC leader, Simon Henig, echoed the statement, claiming the impact on vulnerable people and care budgets was ‘accelerating’ as a result of the budget cuts, and had to find in excess of £40m for the next few years.
North Yorkshire also has to find budget cuts of more than £48m having already implemented plans for a £69m reduction in costs at the beginning of this year.
The Local Government Association is warning local authorities will only be able to provide basic services at the end of the decade should the budget shortfall continue – and local authorities would end up £26.5bn in the red.
Last week Lewisham LBC mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, said it could ‘get a whole lot worse’ following an announcement the local authority planned £28.3m in cuts from next April.

your comments

Interesting to read the MJ article a few lines down, “Councils are failing to make ?fair? payments to care home operators…”. Cutting funding to the public sector is cutting business in the private sector too. That golden thread may take time for the Treasury to understand.
Dominic Macdonald-WALLACE, Shared Service Architecture Ltd, Added: Tuesday, 23 October 2012 01:11 PM

What is certain is that these cuts to funding are designed directly to force the destruction of jobs and services and is part of a plan to destroy the concept that there is such an entity as society. It is clear that the destruction of the public sector is priority number one. The future for ex public sector workers is workfare or McDonalds, since the Government clearly wants low paid low cost workers not what we currently have. I would suggest that the pain to come has been underestimated.
David Hambly, Added: Tuesday, 23 October 2012 11:08 AM

20 mph speed limits in residential areas

Final approval has been given to the implementation of 20mph zones in the London Borough of Islington, following public consultation on the issue. The local authority announced the move last November and now has agreed to fully implement the project by April 2013.

It believes the move to reduce residential streets from 30mph to 20mph will reduce the number of accidents involving cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists. The Metropolitan Police has already said though that it will not increase the amount of officers or resources it currently uses in the area to enforce the change.

Two of the areas busiest strategic roads, Holloway Road and Upper Street, managed by Transport for London, will not be affected by the change in speed. The popularity of 20mph zones has increased across the country in recent years following successful applications in areas such as Portsmouth. A report by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) for the Department for Transport said reducing traffic speed was the single most effective way of increasing safety for cyclists.

Cllr Paul Convery, Islington LBC cabinet member for transport, said: ‘Adopting 20mph on our main roads is a bold step, but there has been strong local support and we are taking a firm lead.
‘We hope and believe drivers will understand what we are setting out to achieve.’

Chief Planner could be Chief Politician

I went to East Lindsey District Council near Louth last Friday, to hear Steve Quartermain, the chief planner at DCLG, field questions from elected members about the revised planning system.

As an aside, having spent 38 years in the RAF it still feels wrong to be able to drive on to an RAF station, even a disused one, without being challenged. For those who don’t know, ELDC is based on the old RAF base at Manby and it was easy to spot the guardroom, SHQ, station workshops, the barrack blocks and of course, the sacred parade square, now desecrated with parked cars. I’m pretty sure the vinyl on the floor of the bogs (toilets to you civvies) was the original stuff from RAF days!

Steve Quartermain was on very good form as always and was able to deflect, defend, duck and generally avoid any criticism of his masters in Whitehall. As an example, given David Cameron’s recent conference criticism of the planning system (again), I asked Steve if the government actually accepted that there are over 400,000 unimplemented planning permissions across England and that if they did accept this figure, then why did his political masters keep blaming the planning system for the lack of growth?

His answer was clearly well practiced and before 2007 it would have actually been an accurate one. According to Steve, 400,000 dwellings is what is needed to satisfy about two years of new housing delivery, so councils need to continue to replenish the stock of planning permissions to meet this need year on year. That would be a good answer if we weren’t recession and if our house building industry wasn’t only managing to build just over 100,000 houses a year.

On this current performance, the house building industry is likely to take at least 3, or even 4 years, to use the 400,000+ outstanding planning permissions. Steve Quartermain of course knows this better than anybody. However, being the politically astute planning professional that he is, he threw back the historical building rate figures from when times were good, bolstered by the long term deficit figure of 3 million houses, that no government has ever managed to put a dent in and swiftly moved on to the next question.

I will however give the Chief Planner his due for being consistent on one message to the assembled members – get on with producing your Local Plan. Many of those at the meeting still didn’t seem to get the other message Steve has been giving out since the coalition government rewrote the planning rules. It’s your plan, if you don’t want something to happen, get the evidence and use that to produce your LOCAL planning policies. Conversely, if you do want something to happen, do the same thing for that goal. Too many of the members at the meeting kept basing their questions on wanting the government to produce national policies that either allowed, or prevented something. One even asked about guidance on materials to be used!

These members still don’t seem to understand that this isn’t the way it works anymore and that, apart from where the central government still wishes to impose its wishes on the nation as a whole, the rest of it is up to them.