Planning and highways spending slashed

Copied from Local Government Chronicle on line
29 August, 2013 | By Ruth Keeling

Planning and highways have seen the largest reductions in spending, according to the latest local government financial data published on Thursday.

Expenditure on planning services fell by 13.2% between 2011-12 and 2012-13 while spending on highways and transport services fell by 9.5% over the same period.

The cut in spending on services linked to growth, a number one priority for the government, contrasts with much smaller cuts in social care spending and increases in spending on housing benefit costs.

The LGA has previously warned that the combination of growing demand for social care services and significant funding cuts would mean spending in other areas, such as planning and highways, would be squeezed harder and harder.

Social care spending fell by just 0.2%. However that masked a different story for children’s social care, where spending increased by 2.8%, and adult social care, where spending fell by 1.4%.

Other areas of increased spending were housing benefit costs, which increased by almost 5%.

Although education spending fell by 7.7%, government statisticians warned that comparisons should not be made over the two years because the reduction was caused by academies leaving local authority control.

While total revenue expenditure fell by 5% between 2011-12 and 2012-13, the reduction was just 0.2% once changes to education responsibilities and funding were removed from the comparison.

The figures also show that councils increased their reserve levels by £1.7bn, not including a £0.9bn addition to the Greater London Authority’s reserves.

However, there were a quarter of councils which did not add to reserves and ended the year with less in the bank.

Treasury rent control threatens house building

Yet another way for this government to milk the local government cash cow.

Copied from LGC online
22 August 2013 | By Keith Cooper

Some of the most ambitious council housing building programmes for decades have been put into jeopardy by the surprise Treasury plan to seize control of local authority rent levels.

Officials have been warned by the Chartered Institute of Housing that the shake-up of ‘social rent’ policy unveiled during the spending period announcement will pull £1.2bn out of council housing budgets over the next decade.

The policy will cut short an arrangement that allowed councils to align rents with those charged by housing associations and undermines key assumptions in their 30-year housing budget plans.

LGC understands ministers are preparing to take a hard line on enforcing the rent policy as the Treasury is concerned that councils will refuse to comply. This includes the option of central regulation of council rents for the refuseniks.

CIH analysis predicts that the authority hardest hit by the policy will see £300m stripped out of its housing revenue account, a budget councils have only controlled since April last year. Until then the HRA had been in the Treasury’s hands.

Croydon LBC, which is hoping to build almost 2,000 homes a year, has calculated that the changes could suck £254.8m out of its HRA. Such a loss would force it to “fundamentally review” its business plan, according to Richard Simpson, its director of finance and assets.

Camden LBC has warned that the new policy could substantially heighten the risk of its 1,100 house building programme. Its £400m plan to refurbish existing stock might also have to be put back, a spokeswoman said. Investment decisions would become “more difficult and risky”, she added. “The potential loss of revenue has been estimated at £75m over a 10 year period.”

The threat of centrally imposed rent controls comes at time when councils have just begun gearing up for large-scale house building schemes.

Camden and Croydon’s house building plans would dwarf the tiny numbers of new local authority homes built during the past two decades.

Reliable evidence of the new rent policy’s impact has only just emerged, following detailed analysis of the proposals by the Chartered Institute of Housing and consultancy Sector.

Abigail Davies, assistant director of policy and practice at the institute, said the changes would over 10 years cost around 125 authorities £1.2bn in ‘net present value’.

This takes into account economic projections and is understood to be the most accurate representation of the impact to date.

The hardest hit authorities are in London and the southeast, with around 24 authorities losing more than £10m each, according to the CIH. “There are some councils which will be very severely affected,” Ms Davies said.

Sector’s analysis of the government’s new ‘rent guarantee’ suggests that it could see £250m pulled out of many councils’ housing budgets.

The guarantee expects all social landlords to increase rents by the consumer price index +1% for 10 years from 2015-16. Until now, councils assumed rents would rise by the retail price index +0.5% for three decades, as government policy papers had indicated.

Ian Green, a manager at Sector, said it was acting for several concerned councils.

“The worry for local authorities is that at the end of 10 years, the government will change it to CPI only,” he added. “If they do that, it will have a substantial impact.”

Ms Davies urged ministers not to undermine council housing investment so soon after local authorities had regained control of their budgets.

A spokeswoman for the DCLG described the new rent policy as a “fair deal for tenants and landlords”.

Explainer
The Treasury’s new social rent policy has two key elements. The first cuts short ‘rent convergence policy’ one year early. Introduced by the previous Labour administration, this had allowed councils to bring their rent levels into line with those of highercost housing associations. Without the extra year, most authorities will be left out of pocket.

The second change is a new ‘rent formula’ which states that social rents should increase by CPI +1% for 10 years from 2015-16. Both policies could save the exchequer £1bn between 2015-16 and 2017-18, a sum which depends on whether councils will toe the policy line.

“The main uncertainty [about the savings] is the behavioural response from local authority landlords,” Treasury documents say. The DCLG is therefore considering rent regulation.

Minimum room size standards – if you can afford it.

This extract from the DCLG press release, really gives me the willies, as my old dad used to say. I don’t have a problem with making sure homes work for older people – as I will be one, sooner than I wish to admit – and disabled people, so they should be. What I don’t like and what makes me both suspicious and, as usual, extremely cynical, is the bit in bold. How can one local authority have different room size needs, compared to another? Are there any secret pockets of pygmies or giants DCLG know about and we don’t?

Or is this DCLG speaking out of both sides of their collective mouths? They give you an opportunity to make an improvement in your policies, but only if you are willing to invest in proving that it is justified for your particular area? This is of course standard practice in Local Plan preparation. Producing the evidence required to justify NOT providing enough housing land, being the most obvious one. Gypsy and Traveller sites, leisure, public open space requirements and road infrastructure, are all evidence based requirements that are totally appropriate, as somebody has to pay for them and they should not be required just for the sake of it – but room sizes, really?

This statement is clearly designed to con people into thinking that DCLG are, to quote Eric Pickles, “on the side of hard working taxpayers”, whilst at the same time discouraging cash strapped councils from actually doing the evidence gathering required. If DCLG were genuine in their wish to see our rabbits hutch homes consigned to history, they would simple produce a national standard to be applied in the same as the building regulations are. Score another one for the vested interests of the planning industry me thinks.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said the administration was inviting views on “minimum space and access standards that would allow councils to seek bigger homes to meet local needs, including those of older and disabled people”.

Parking ticket protest in a vulture costume

Only in Britain, or arguably in England more so, could a citizen achieve such unintended(?) irony whilst protesting against the state. Priceless.

A motorist given a parking ticket returned days later dressed in a vulture costume to protest.
Roger Wallis, 58, bought a mask on the internet and made the rest of his outfit.
He then walked around the car park, in Havant, Hants, for five hours. He said: “I put a lot of effort into making the costume because it is important to look the part. There is no point going down there looking like a prat.”

John Redwood MP sings, ‘I like to be in America’

http://www.thecommentator.com/article/4040/bbc_s_propagandistic_obsession_with_german_economy_ignores_anglo_american_prowess

How disappointing to see a seasoned MP such as John Redwood, not content with just falling over himself to kiss the collective backsides of the good ol’ US of A, despite their major involvement in the world wide recession and the crap we inherit from them, such as gang culture, reality TV shows, skyscrapers, fast food – the list goes on and on, he then adopts the practices of the playground, by ignoring the comparisons being made between the UK and Germany and saying, ‘well Norway and Switzerland are better than all of them, so there!’.
I didn’t find it to be a wholesale endorsement of the German way of doing things, just a reasonable comparison of the differences between the two countries, both good and bad. Yes, the Germans are more productive, but they haven’t had any pay increases above inflation for 20 years. Excellent child care facilities cost a fraction of the cost of lower quality facilities here, but German women feel obliged to be stay at home mums, with little or no career prospects. Workers are more committed to their company and its success, because they share in the profits and work as a team – there’s no but to that one!
The Germans don’t seem to have a problem with private rented properties as being the most effective way to house the masses, rather than encouraging people to saddle themselves with a lifetime of debt.
Hands up all those who’d like to be American… Can you hold them up a bit higher, I can’t see any hands from here.

Early figures reveal cuts of 16% for some councils

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
8 August, 2013 | By Ruth Keeling

Councils forced to revamp their savings plans after early sight of their individual funding allocations revealed cuts as high as 16% in 2015-16.

The indicative allocation figures, released last month by the Department for Communities & Local Government, have caused alarm within local government which had expected cuts of around 10%.

Councils suffering the deepest cuts have warned they could now be pushed towards a ‘doom’ scenario where services would have to be closed and vital growth plans ditched.

The extent of the cuts is the result of a series of ‘top slices’ taken from councils’ revenue support grant to fund central government programmes, such as the ‘Dilnot new burdens’ budget announced by the chancellor last month.

The hardest hit councils have been told their funding settlement assessment could fall by 16% in 2015-16. Only two authorities, Wokingham BC and Surrey CC, face cuts of less than 10%.

North Kesteven is among 69 councils facing a 16% cut. Deputy chief executive Alan Thomas said the authority might have to rethink its growth priorities. Its previous £1.75m saving plan will now have to be increased to £2.25m, equivalent to 15% of its £11.5m a year net budget.

Mr Thomas said the Conservative-run council might also review its existing policy of reserving New Homes Bonus payments for infrastructure spending. “I think we are going to have to take a different view of that now and use quite a bit of that New Homes Bonus to support core spending, otherwise we won’t be able to balance the books,” he said.

The authority was already reeling from the “absolutely devastating” government announcement that up to 35% of New Homes Bonus income will be handed to local enterprise partnerships from 2015-16, he added.

Districts and inner London boroughs were the hardest hit group of councils in 2015-16, facing 15% cuts on average. Outer London boroughs, metropolitan districts and unitaries face reductions of 14%; counties will see an average reduction of 13%.

David Huxtable (Con), cabinet member for resources at Somerset CC, which faces a 15% cut, said the reduction matched its most pessimistic plan and would have “a huge impact on services”.

He said: “We will have to stop doing things… We will only be looking after statutory services.”

While the early release of individual figures for 2015-16 has been welcomed, treasurers bodies are due to meet senior civil servants to discuss missing details in the coming months.

Brian Roberts, former president of the Society of County Treasurers and Leicestershire CC director of corporate resources, said: “Having these before the summer recess is very helpful. But there is still a lot of uncertainty.”

Bandstand argument now off track

I see the Graham Dark fan club is continuing to leap to his defence, although today’s letter is from the original writer so that’s hardly a surprise. As I’ve said previously, it’s amazing how quickly letters in the press drift away from the initial issue. This lady has now gone down the route of how wonderful the music events are and that she has never seen me at one! And your point is madam?
In retrospect, it probably was a bit too blunt to write that it was the only good idea he’d ever brought to the Spalding Town Forum, even if it is close to the truth.
What I should have said, was that a band stand in Ayscoughfee Gardens, was a suggestion made and promoted more than once by Graham Dark’s and that he had actually brought detailed plans for one to a previous Spalding Town Forum meeting. On that basis, why was this lady attacking me for making a passing comment, about something her hero is supporting and promoting?
Even his idea for a bandstand on the cheap, is ill conceived given his proposed location. The roofed enclosure behind the now disused paddling pool, is too small in length, or depth for a start. Suggesting that it can be made fit for purpose using local trades people, at a lower cost that building a bandstand from scratch, may be true, but it won’t be as cheap as suggested and is not backup with any figures.

As an aside, the original, original idea for a band stand in Aycoughfee Gardens, came from a previous councillor colleague of mine, Paul Walls. Paul’s other more ‘madcap’ idea, that I would really love to see happen, is a glass sided restaurant and viewing deck on top of the Spalding water tower. With that view, it could be our equivalent of Tattershall Castle!