Gary Porter goes in with guns not blazing, but definitely with the safety off

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Give us powers to boost house-building skills – Porter30 June, 2015 | By Charlotte Santry

The government faces missing its pledge on affordable homes unless it devolves more powers to local authorities, the Local Government Association chairman is set to warn.
Gary Porter (Con) is today set to use his first keynote address in his new role to urge the government to transfer more funding and responsibilities for employment and skills services to local areas.
The government’s pledge to build 275,000 affordable homes by 2020 is at risk of falling foul of a growing skills shortage in the construction industry that is holding back housebuilding, he will say.
The LGA believes greater devolved powers would allow councils, schools, employers and colleges to work together to create more construction apprenticeships and ensure communities have the skills needed to build badly needed homes.
Cllr Porter will say: “The government has expressed a clear ambition to build more affordable homes and help more people own their own home. Local government has a central role to play to make this happen.”
For too long there has been a “mismatch of centrally set training and skills needed locally”, he will state, adding: “We’ve trained too many hairdressers and not enough bricklayers.”
Cllr Porter will also call for councils’ borrowing limits to be lifted, to allow for greater investment in housing.
In addition, he wants local authorities to have the freedom to set right-to-buy discounts and retain 100% of receipts locally without complex rules, to help them to quickly replace housing sold through the scheme.
Bringing health and social care together has shown that bringing local public services together provides better value services, he will say, pointing to the better care fund.
The proposals form part of an LGA report called A Shared Commitment: Local Government and the Spending Review launched today.

Gary Porter wants to be a unifying force in local government

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LGA cannot afford to sit on the fence over distribution of funding

25 June, 2015 | By Sarah Calkin

The incoming chair of the Local Government Association has pledged to avoid sitting “on the fence”, despite having to represent the interests of members from across the political spectrum

Gary Porter (Con) told LGC he would find ways for the association to present a united front on difficult issues, such as how funding should be distributed across local government.

Under the current finance regime, councils in the most deprived areas have suffered some of the largest cuts compared with authorities in relatively wealth areas.  “If anything happens in this year it won’t be because we’ve got splinters,” he said. “We cannot afford to sit on the fence because then we’ll have the whole world designed against us.”

Asked whether the LGA would advocate a return to a means of funding distribution which was more based on need, Cllr Porter said it was not the only valid way of distributing funding.  The funding regime should, however, become “more sophisticated”.  “Needs based on poverty alone generally miss some parts of the country where there is real poverty masked by a general economic wellbeing,” he said.

He added that Labour councils should be confident he would represent their interests as he was not “a tribal politician”.  “In some of the things I do I’m probably more left wing than some of the Labour councils: I bought the dustbins back in-house, grounds maintenance back in-house, kept my council houses.”

Gary Porter hits the ground running

Porter: Some councils need a ‘kick up the backside. 

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online 25 June, 2015 | By Sarah Calkin

LGC interviews the LGA’s chair elect as he prepares to take up the role next week.

Requiring poorly performing councils to be scrutinised by their stronger counterparts will help local government win extra powers through devolution, says the incoming chair of the Local Government Association.

In a wide-ranging interview with LGC, Gary Porter (Con), said it was essential that weaker councils improved if the sector was to win the turst of MPs and other parts of the public sector.
“Parliament judges us on our worst colleagues and we can’t afford in the next few years for that to be the case,” he said.  “We cannot deny that some of our colleagues in local government really could do with a kick up the backside. And if we try to deny that we will never be taken credibly.”

The LGA had to find a way to make councils that refused peer review “to have help” to improve, Cllr Porter added. Compulsory reviews have been previously proposed by the LGA, which is now seeking meetings with ministers to advance the idea.

According to Cllr Porter, the passing of power from Whitehall to local government through devolution is the “only way” ministers could cut spending while improving public services.
In a departure from the rhetoric of outgoing chair David Sparks (Lab) and his Conservative predecessor Sir Merrick Cockell (Con), Cllr Porter said the association would no longer be warning that councils risked bankruptcy.
The LGA, he added, had reached a “stronger” and “more mature place” after years of resisting budget cuts with dire warnings that services would deteriorate.
“In the past, we have said ‘this is outrageous, people can’t have less money spent because the outcomes will be a lot worse’ and we know that’s not the case for the past four to five years.”
He continued: “[Government has] a mandate to take out money. We’ve got some plans to help them do that in a much better way.”
The LGA is due to set out its ideas about how to manage this parliament’s spending cuts at its annual conference next week.
Cllr Porter said devolution and integration with other public services would be central to its proposals and believed ministers would be “receptive” to such proposals.
“I’m still confident that reductions in spending can be achieved at the level they need but not just by singling [local government] out as an easy target.”
He described the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill as “largely good” and was confident rural authorities could be extended the “same deal” as that won by Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
He urged authorities to start conversations with neighbouring authorities and “other bits of the state” when developing proposals for devolution.
“It could be a good thing for the health sector, it could be a good thing for rural police forces to be in that space,” he added.

More local government funding misery on the way

Clearly central government, along with its myriad of money hungry departments, expects local government to be flattered, when it comes to the combination of new burdens and funding cuts being visited upon it.    As well as being required to take on new service delivery, such as the management of council tax benefit – that came with a 10% reduction in funding from day one – it now has the new public health agenda to deliver and the national housing deficit to address.

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Ministers must consider the knock-on effects of their policies – 10 June, 2015 | By Keith Cooper

Ministers could impose further cuts on councils’ 2015-16 budgets, the chief executive of the Local Government Association has warned in correspondence seen by LGC.  The e-mail was circulated to council chief executives last week, as the chancellor announced £4.5bn of in-year cuts to departmental budgets across Whitehall.

These included plans to slash £200m from the Department of Health’s public health budget, a reduction that will be passed onto councils.  While the Department for Communities & Local Government saw its departmental budget cut by an additional £230m in last week’s announcement – equivalent to an 8.5% reduction- its funding for local authorities was left untouched.

In an email to local authority chief executives, LGA chief Carolyn Downs said the local government finance settlement “must be considered vulnerable”.  It adds: “Even if the government conclude, as they did in 2010, that practical considerations would make it very difficult to reopen the local government finance settlement there has to be a danger of any 5% cut being incorporated into the baseline used for the 2016-17 settlement before any 2016-17 reduction.”

A 5% cut applied to the DCLG’s local government budget for 2015-16 would be equivalent to a further £500m reduction, on top of the £3.7bn year on year reduction already applied.
While the emergency budget in a month’s time is expected to set overall tax and spend totals for the whole of this parliament, detail of further cuts are likely to be announced in a spending review, due in the autumn.  The emergency budget following the 2010 general election did not cut the local government finance settlement but did reduce specific grants.  Ms Downs said a “similar scenario” to 2010 “cannot at this stage be discounted”.

She added: “The LGA will continue to put forward the case for local government in the run-up to the spending review.”
A statement from the Treasury said the savings to the DCLG had found further in-year savings of £230m, largely though the sale of assets owned by the department and its arm’s-length bodies, such as the Homes and Communities Agency.  Asked if councils could face further in year cuts in July’s emergency budget, a spokesman for the DCLG said: “There has been no reduction in DCLG funding to local authorities.

“The 2015-16 local government settlement will not be reopened.”