Pickles pushed to announce weekly bin collection support

Copied from and Copyright of: Localgov.co.uk
21 November 2012
Thomas Bridge

Delayed announcement of successful bids for the weekly waste collection support scheme are adversely impacting on council budgets, industry experts have warned.

In an open letter to secretary of state for communities and local government, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has been urged to announce successful town hall submissions for the weekly collection support scheme (WCSS) at the earliest possible opportunity.

Chief executives from the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA) and Resource Association (RA), and the director general of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), have argued that postponement of WCSS allocation has led to a hiatus in decision-making and procurement across council waste services.

Equipment and vehicles manufacturers are also reducing capacity and employment as a result of stalled procurement and will be unable to immediately meet future demand, the letter asserts.
‘This is already a green growth sector and, with appropriate government leadership and co-ordination, it is capable of delivering much more in terms of jobs, value, skills and general economic development. We would urge DCLG to acknowledge this contribution and to prioritise the WCSS announcement so that the service improvements that it was designed to support can be put in place,’ the letter states.

your comments

With Eric Pickles there is always an ‘elephant’ in the room – now there are two.
Patrick Newman, ex local government, Stevenage,
Added: Wednesday, 21 November 2012 03:13 PM

‘Stressed’ councils set to struggle financially

From and copyright of Local Government Chronicle online
21 November, 2012 | By Ruth Keeling

A quarter of councils may struggle to balance their books in this spending review period – and more than a tenth risk running into trouble this year, the Audit Commission has warned in a wide-ranging financial health check of the sector.

The commission’s second Tough Times report shows that a growing number of councils are causing concern to district auditors. The proportion at risk of failing to keep to their budgets has risen from 10% last year to 12% in 2012-13.

Commission chairman Jeremy Newman said auditors had expressed concerns about a number of councils already showing “signs of stress” and facing further “significant challenges”.

Councils of most concern were most likely to have struggled during 2011-12, the report said. These had carried out ‘unplanned actions’ or faced relatively high funding cuts and – “perhaps more important” – had low reserves, the report added. Unplanned actions include the use of reserves and exceptional requests for capitalisation.

The commission’s report confirmed that the most deprived areas were hardest hit by funding cuts even though they continued to receive the highest per capita spending.

Cumulative cuts over the first two years of the spending review produced a 19.5% cut for metropolitan districts compared with 16.6% in London and 11.8% for counties. Metropolitan districts were the most likely to fall into the “high stress group”, the report added.

Despite these concerns, Mr Newman praised local government’s handling of severe budget cuts as a significant achievement.

The report also identified a number of trends in council spending in 2011-12 and budget plans for 2012-13, including

Central government funding fell by £1.6bn in 2012-13 while a second year of council tax freeze saw real-terms income fall by a further £400m over the same period.
Adult social care will be less protected as the only service set to be cut more in 2012-13 (3.4%) than in 2011-12 (2.2%).
Children’s social care spending is due to increase by 0.6% in 2012-13 after a 3.4% cut in 2011-12.
Planning and development will suffer less as planned savings fall from 27.2% in 2011-12 to 6.9% in 2012-13.
Housing faces further cuts of 9% in 2012-13, following a 12% budget cut the previous year.
Councils increased their reserves by £1.3m in 2011-12 despite plans to reduce them.
Treasurers described the report as an accurate reflection of councils’ experience, but warned that it could not take into account the financial risks associated with numerous funding reforms, which were due to come into force in April 2013.

Bob Palmer, audit lead at the Society of District Council Treasurers, said incentive schemes such as the New Homes Bonus and the retention of business rates would disadvantage authorities with below-average growth. “We are going to see increasing funding and financial difficulties for those councils unable to boost their domestic or non-domestic properties. That’s a serious issue that comes on top of overall reductions,” he said.

Frances Foster, chief policy officer at the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities, echoed Mr Palmer’s concerns. Referring to the report’s confirmation that the most deprived areas were hardest hit, she said localised business rates and council tax discount schemes would exacerbate this effect.

“It is difficult enough to deal with cuts when resources are known but build in volatility of business rates and council tax income then I would expect the ‘stress levels’ to increase accordingly,” she said.

LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) said councils were doing “an outstanding job in extremely difficult circumstances”. “The strain of the 28% cut in funding is undoubtedly starting to show across all service areas,” he said, pointing to cuts in the previously protected area of social care.

Sir Merrick said councils were in an “increasingly precarious position” due to funding cuts, risks to revenues and rising demand. He said the sector should be spared from a similar scale of cuts in the next spending review. “It is now time for others to do the heavy lifting,” he added.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities & Local Government said the business rate retention system could add £10bn to the wider economy. “Councils account for a quarter of all public spending – this year English councils will spend £114bn – so it is vital they continue to play their part tackling the inherited budget deficit,” he said.

Response to the report

Steve Freer, chief executive of the he Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy said the report was “positive” but pointed out it did not assess the impact of cuts on services. He also said public reactions to the cuts are “influenced in part by perceptions of fairness” and warned the governemnt to “reflect very carefully on the message from this analysis that deprived communities are bearing a disproportionate share of the pain”.

Joanna Killian, chair of Solace, also warned the that “public concern at service closures will only be heightened if this autumn sees the government’s contribution reduced even further” and called for “a full debate with the public about what local services they want and how they should be paid for is also required”.

Do as I say, not as I do for Eric Pickles

On the same day that David Cameron, once again, announces moves to speed up the planning system, because it is allegedly the cause of the UK’s lack of growth, Eric Pickles puts his not inconsiderable foot in it, with the following decision.

Controversial plans for an waste-to-energy plant in the constituency of Conservative Party co-chairman Grant Shapps have been put on hold for an extended period while communities secretary Eric Pickles decides whether to call them in.

I wonder what sort of timescale Dave has given his mate Eric for sorting this out? End of the week should do, given the need for growth don’t you think?

Yet another doom and gloom report for us to digest

Copyright LocalGov.co.uk
£48bn of spending cuts needed by 2018, argues report
Jonathan Werran

Alarming public finance figures indicating further eye-watering cuts and prolonged austerity suggest the Government should focus on localising public finances and economic growth, a think tank has urged.
An analysis issued today by cross-party think tank the Social Market Foundation (SMF) and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), based on models used by independent forecasters the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), indicate an extra £48bn of additional tax hikes or spending cuts will be required by 2018.
According to the report, Fiscal Fallout, the likelihood of a greater than anticipated black hole in the nation’s finances – the March Budget implied only £26bn of cuts would be needed beyond the current Spending Review period – suggests unprotected Whitehall departments will see their budgets shrink by nearly a quarter (23%).
In effect departments would face sharper yearly cuts of 3.7% between 2015 and 2018, compared with 2.3% under the current Spending Review – making some departments like the Home Office and Ministry of Justice 40% smaller than they were at the start of the decade.
To balance the demands of deficit-reduction and public service reform, the RSA argues for a radical re-evaluation of how public services are delivered, focusing on localising public finances, promoting preventative services and promoting ideas like localised spending on growth.
Report author and director of the SMF, Ian Mulheirn said the OBR’s modelling shows the economy has less room to bounce back. ‘Combined with high public borrowing since March this implies a much bigger black hole in the public finances, making the stakes for the next spending review higher than ever.’
‘Combined with the savings pencilled in at the last Budget, the developments since March mean that the Chancellor will have to lay out some eye-waering cuts at the next spending review and will prolong austerity deep into the next parliament.
Ben Lucas, chair of public services at the RSA said: ‘Faced with the unprecedented level of cuts to public spending outlined by the SMF, we can’t continue to tinker around with a model of public services that was designed in the 1940s. What’s needed is a radical new approach based on social productivity which moves away from Whitehall towards local-based collaboration, integration and shared services.’

Why don’t people vote?

Very interesting post election piece in today’s Telegraph, that seems to lay some of the blame at the door of Tony Blair, for the lack of voter interest in our electoral process. Whilst that might be true, there’s no getting away from the fact that all those who have followed Blair, have used the same approach to governing this country and have therefore had the same negative effect on the public’s attitude to voting. Put simply, we now have a political system of compromises.

Our leading politicians may think they are being very clever deploying the tactic of satisfying most of the people most of the time. However, all it does is confuse the public by blurring the differences between those who stand for election to be our political leaders. Just like some shoppers often leave the supermarket without having made a purchase, because there was too much to choose from, the public will will walk away from the ballot box because they can’t fig out who to choose.

A couple of less than ideal examples would be, the Tories and their confusion over EU membership and the Labour Party’s increasingly cooling relationship with the unions.

Copyright – Daily Telegraph comment Saturday 17th November 2012

Until voters feel involved, localism is a lost cause

THE American congressman Tip O’Neill once said that all politics is local. Yet judging by the pitifully poor turnouts in the contests to elect new police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in England and Wales, when people in this country are given the chance to influence local decision-making, the majority apparently does not want to know.

Earlier this year towns and cities rejected poorly promoted plans for elected mayors and the campaign for the PCCs was equally badly executed. The idiocy of holding the elections in November was the fault of the Liberal Democrats, who wanted them uncoupled from the local polls in May. Ministers only got fully behind the reform late in the day and failed to place an important extension of local accountability in a wider political context. Many people complained that they knew little about the candidates and even less about their powers. Moreover, a significant number objected to the whole idea on the grounds that it represented the politicisation of the police. That, again, was partly the Government’s fault for failing to promote the participation of more independent candidates.

But even if political leaders had spent the past six months talking about nothing else, voters would still not have flocked to the polling booths. Thursday’s lack of interest reflected a deeper malaise at the heart of our democracy that has been apparent for some time. Turnouts at national and local elections have been plummeting for 20 years and a report earlier this year from the Hansard Society suggested that political engagement is lower than at any time since the equal franchise was introduced in 1928.

In a recent survey of British social attitudes, only 56 per cent considered voting to be a civic duty; the number who thought it was not worth voting at all has more than doubled since 1991, from 8 per cent to 18 per cent. In the last three general elections, 65 per cent or less of the electorate has voted. The nadir was in 2005, with a turnout of 59 per cent: Tony Blair’s government, which secured 36 per cent of the vote, was returned with the support of just one voter in five.

It is telling that the highest turnout at a general election in recent years – 78 per cent – was in 1992. That was a contest in which people felt they had a real choice and that the outcome would influence the direction the country might take. Out of that defeat sprang New Labour, whose leaders set out to destroy politics as a battle of ideas and turn it into a technocratic pursuit of the floating voter underpinned by a mendacious mix of spin, focus-grouping and fence-sitting.

This lack of conviction and deliberate denial of leadership fed into a popular cynicism about politicians that was compounded by the expenses scandal in the last parliament. After all, it is not as though people have lost all interest in politics. Opinions are traded more freely than ever via the internet but they often have a common theme – a belief that politicians, whether national or local, don’t listen to the electorate, but rather conduct a debate among themselves and with the media that excludes the rest of the population. Why bother voting if you feel it cannot make a difference? It is this sense of participation – not simply in the vote itself, but in what comes afterwards – that is missing. Yet, ironically, the one thing that the creation of police and crime commissioners was supposed to achieve was to reconnect an important local institution with the people it serves.

No doubt many will conclude that the turnout indicates a popular rejection of localism – the idea that people should wrench back control over their public services after years of centralisation. They are too busy, have too many other distractions or they simply cannot be bothered, so just let the professionals get on with it. Yet if voters were given the chance to make a real difference – perhaps through a greater use of local referendums – then more would take part. Yes, we want our services to be efficiently run and to work properly; but that will only happen if we have more power to influence how they are delivered. National party machines have had their day. The lesson to be drawn from Thursday’s debacle is that we need more localism, not less.

Expert criticises Pickles’ employment plans

I’m by no means the sharpest knife in the box when it comes to all the legalities and complexities of local government let alone the employment law. However, as I have already said in a previous post, this headline grabbing, shot from the hip announcement by Eric Pickles, is music to the ears of the legal profession.

Will nobody get a grip of this wind bag and put a muzzle on him, before he does some real and long lasting damage? Come to think of it he probably already has, we just haven’t noticed yet.

A word of caution to any of my councillor colleagues having outside of their chief executive’s office door with an axe in the form of a P45 in hand. Please remember that Pickles has not offered any legal or financial support for this proposed change – if you try it you’re on your own. It’s the classic Eric Pickles way of working – shouting fire in the middle of a crowd and then sitting back and watching the chaos that ensures. When challenged, he’ll tell you that it’s what ‘the people’ wanted.

Copyright Local Government Chronicle
14 November, 2012 | By Ruth Keeling

An employment expert has criticised ministerial proposals to scrap safeguards for key council officers.
Sir Rodney Brooke, a solicitor and former council chief executive who has been involved in several high-profile disciplinary cases, has questioned communities secretary Eric Pickles’ plan to scrap the process by which the dismissal of senior officers is reviewed by an independent expert.
The communities secretary pledged this week to clear this “legal minefield” of protections, which he claimed “took forever” and cost up to £420,000 a go.
The laws introducing the safeguards were laid by Margaret Thatcher’s government amid fears of politically motivated sackings by newly elected Labour councils.
Chief executives, section 151 finance officers and monitoring officers facing disciplinary procedures currently have their cases reviewed by a ‘designated independent person’.
Many commentators agreed the lengthy and expensive investigations meant councils increasingly chose to negotiate settlements with employees.
But Sir Rodney suggested amending the procedures. “A better system would be to give the designated independent person wider powers,” he said.
“If the relationships [between officers and members] have broken down irretrievably there is no point in carrying on with the investigation. Even if you come to the conclusion there is no misconduct, they still have to go. [In this case] the [designated independent person] could negotiate some compromise settlement.”
Sir Rodney said the concerns that led to the creation of the DIP in the 1980s remained. “If you are in a politically volatile job, as you are in local government, safeguards are desirable,” he said.
The Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors suggested the current arrangements could benefit from a review, but said Mr Pickles’ proposal was “misconceived”.
Others, such as employment consultant Roger Morris who has advised a number of senior officers facing dismissal, defended the current arrangements. He warned that Mr Pickles’ proposal could increase costs if more cases ended in employment tribunals.
Mr Morris argued the DIP process need not be scrapped or reviewed. It was effective in ensuring senior officers in the three key roles were not dismissed without grounds or received a negotiated compensation deal, he said.
“It is important that officials in very exposed public positions can do their job without fear or favour.”
The communities secretary appeared to pre-empt such reasoning by arguing that councillors wishes should be paramount.

“What’s decided in the full democratic council chamber will be what counts,” he said.

“If elected representatives decide a chief executive is for the chop. So be it.”

The Department for Communities & Local Government said the amendment to regulations would take place early in the new year following a short consultation of no more than four weeks.

Earlier, the LGA, Solace, Alace and Acses all adopted varying positions following Mr Pickles announcement.

Pickles shoots from the hip – again

Eric Pickles has finally said something I agree with – local government employment rules are an anachronism and need to be changed. However, in order to grab yet another 15 minutes of fame and plenty of headlines, he’s conveniently overlooked that annoying thing called the legal system. I doubt whether too many councils will be tapping their highly paid CX on the shoulder and handing him or her their P45 anytime soon, simply based on a vote taken at a full council meeting.

The lawyers must love Eric Pickles, first the farce over Regional Strategies, now he’s inviting all the employment lawyers to order a new Aston Martin paid for by local taxpayers.

Copyright Local Government Chronicle
9 November, 2012 | By Ruth Keeling

Employment protections for council officers look set to be removed as communities secretary Eric Pickles renews his battle with “bureaucratic barons” and “golden goodbyes”.

Ministers are expected to propose the scrapping of a rule which requires councils to appoint a lawyer to conduct a review when an officer is suspended – a rule originally introduced to prevent dismissals motivated by political issues.

Mr Pickles is understood to be frustrated that councils frequently arrange large pay offs for chief executives in order to avoid the appointment of a lawyer and an expensive and lengthy investigation into the suspension.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities & Local Government said an amendment to the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) Regulations 2001 would come “into effect early in the new year following a short consultation” which is not to last more than four weeks. It is not clear whether the amendment will affect section 151 officers and monitoring officers as well as chief executives and DCLG have been asked to clarify.

Writing in the Telegraph, he said: “Watching incompetent bureaucratic barons bouncing from one post to another with only a nice payoff to cushion their fall has been a source of immense frustration to many local government colleagues.

“At present getting rid of your chief exec involves a series of fantastical labyrinthine twists and turns — beginning with the appointment of a high-flying lawyer to review the case. It takes forever and costs a small fortune. One case took 16 months to adjudicate and racked up costs of £420,000.”

He added: “The days of lining your pockets at the expense of the taxpayer are over. In future, what’s decided in the full democratic council chamber will be what counts. And if elected representatives decide a chief executive is for the chop. So be it.”

The proposal is one of a raft of announcements made by Mr Pickles on Friday, including a call for councils get rid of the chief executive altogether.

A press release issued by the on Friday said: “The post of chief executive is not set in statute, which means there are no central barriers to remove the role. It only takes a simple democratic decision by the council. Several councils have done this in the past year. The statutory head of paid service role can be done by another senior officer.”

The secretary of state has also written to the LGA to “urge them to take steps to improve their performance management of senior posts” and he announced plans to strengthen guidance on the publication of pay policies.

Currently councils are advised to hold a vote on pay deals over £100,000, but Mr Pickles said smaller councils who do not have such high salaries should set a lower vote threshold and warned that ministers would regulate if councils don’t act on it.

DCLG said: “With a public worried about the cost of living and all parts of the public sector looking to make deficit savings, Ministers believe these steps will show taxpayers that value for money is being fully considered for top paid staff.”