Porter: I’m the man to lead LGA through ‘uncharted’ territory

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27 May, 2015 | By David Paine
The Local Government Association is heading into uncharted territory and faces the biggest threat to its existence over this parliament, according to the frontrunner to become the body’s new chair.
Writing for LGC, LGA Conservative group leader Gary Porter noted it was the first time in the LGA’s history that it will have worked with a Conservative majority government. He said this, combined with a Conservative led LGA presented “both the biggest opportunity and the biggest threat to the sector being effectively represented by one lobbying organisation”.
He said: “Can we put up a senior team that will be able to work well with central government, and yet still be able to publicly articulate the case on behalf of our members when our sector’s interests cannot be advanced by either the formal or informal route?   
 “That’s why the Conservative group’s choice of chairman is more crucial than it has been at any time and it is for this reason that I am putting my name forward.”
The Conservatives regained control of the LGA in this month’s local elections meaning Labour’s David Sparks is set to be replaced as the LGA’s chair.
LGC reported last week that Cllr Porter looked set to be unchallenged for the role after potential rivals stepped aside to challenge for the group leadership role.
Cllr Porter, who is leader of South Holland DC, said he had a track record of working across the political divide and as chair would want to work closely with government to ensure services are redesigned in the best way to meet the financial challenge facing local authorities.
He said: “If the LGA is looking for someone who cares passionately about local government and about the role the association plays in protecting and promoting it, for someone who can work across political and sectorial boundaries, and for someone who will champion the work that we all do, then it is looking for me.”
Nominations for chair close on 9 June and the new post will be announced by the end of the month.     

Gary Porter to seek top job at Local Government Association

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Porter expresses interest in LGA chair role 

19 May, 2015 | By David Paine

The leader of the Conservative group on the Local Government Association Gary Porter has confirmed his intention to apply for the role of chair.
Cllr Porter, who has to stand down as group leader this summer due to party rules, confirmed to LGC he was intending to throw his hat into the ring.
LGC reported last week that the Conservatives had regained control of the LGA after winning more than 500 seats and control of an extra 28 councils in this month’s local elections. The Tories have a majority of 0.6% and, as a result, Labour’s David Sparks is set to be replaced as the LGA’s chair.
While there is a time limit on the Conservative group leadership role, Cllr Porter said it does not prevent that person from applying for the chairmanship of the LGA should the party be in control.
Cllr Porter, who is also leader of South Holland DC, said the Tories “never expected” to win back control of the LGA this year. But now that they have he said: “It’s been usual for people to have been leader to express an interest in going for the chairmanship because it’s the only place to go to.”
Cllr Porter said he had not yet devised his manifesto but added “most people in the LGA know what I’m like…and they will either support that or they won’t.”

LGC reported yesterday how former Cheshire West & Chester Council leader Mike Jones (Con) is considering standing as chair.  Surrey CC leader and County Councils Network chair David Hodge has also been tipped as a potential chairmanship candidate but declined to comment on the matter last week when contacted by LGC.
The chairmanship of the LGA is set to be decided by the end of June

The 13 NOC counties and unitaries: who will govern?

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28 May, 2013 | By Chris Game

Interesting comment regarding the current situation on LCC. Highlighted in bold below.

In May 2010 prime minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg took just five days to form their national coalition. By contrast, starting in June 2010, the Belgians took 18 months to form theirs. English local government falls between the two.

Three weeks after the local elections, most of us still don’t know, for at least some of the nine counties and four unitaries conveniently lumped together as ‘NOC’ (No Overall Control), the answer to that basic question the elections were supposedly about: who will actually govern?

This column attempts to fill some of the gaps. It’s a kind of ‘runners and riders’ guide to the 13 county and unitary councils in which no single party has a majority of seats: how they got that way, and what will or might happen in the near future.

The county councils
First, the counties. Cambridgeshire was one of the previously staunchly Conservative counties that became hung largely through being UKIPped. This was actually a much patchier experience than some commentators suggested – with 7 of the 27 counties still having no UKIP councillors at all and only 4, all in the south and east, having more than 10.

In Cambridgeshire, the Conservatives’ new leader, Martin Curtis, favoured their carrying on as a minority administration, but the Independents ruled that out, while Labour and the Lib Dems refused to join UKIP in supporting an Independent-led non-Conservative rainbow coalition. Eventually, the Conservatives got half their cake: Curtis will head a minority administration for 12 months, but then UKIP’s preference, for ‘opening up’ council decision-making, kicks in and cabinets will be replaced by all-party committees.

In Cumbria, the elections reversed the standings of the Conservatives and Labour, the latter regaining their customary position as largest party, leaving the slightly strengthened Lib Dems as potential kingmakers. Under a new leader, Jonathan Stephenson, they opted for coalition with Labour, deputy leadership of the council, and four cabinet posts.

East Sussex is much smaller than Cambridgeshire, but the party arithmetic is broadly similar. Here, though, the other parties seemed readier to accept a Conservative minority administration, and, as in Cambridgeshire, although a Conservative-UKIP deal could have produced a majority, none was apparently seriously pursued.

Gloucestershire was hung from 1981 to 2005, with Lib Dems generally the largest group – before, in 2009, the Conservatives suddenly took 42 of the then 63 council seats. With the reduction of 10 seats and accompanying boundary changes, those observers predicting a return to NOC were proved right. The Conservatives, though, will continue as a minority administration, and the Lib Dems as the main opposition, miffed at a suspected Con-Lab deal over Scrutiny Management and other committee chairs.

Lancashire is Labour territory, and the party was hoping to regain majority control in one go. Sensing a lifeline, the Conservatives tried talking with anyone who might be interested in a presumably anti-Labour coalition. But the Independents don’t want an alliance with anyone and the Lib Dems seem undecided, which leaves a Labour minority administration looking the likeliest outcome.

Lincolnshire Conservatives are unused to coalition politics, but they reacted quickly to their heavy loss of seats by negotiating a Con/LD/Independent coalition. Splitting the Lincolnshire Independents in doing so was a bonus: three of them signed up with the coalition, one with a seat in the cabinet, and there are rumours that others could follow.

In equally traditionally Conservative Norfolk, life for the dominant party is more fraught. At a full council meeting, the Conservative leader, Bill Borrett, apparently thought he had an agreement that the Lib Dems would at least abstain in any vote, enabling him to head a minority administration. He hadn’t, and nor could he nail down a more explicit coalition agreement with the Lib Dems involving some key specified posts. For the present, then, the running of the authority is, as the phrase goes, in the hands of officers.

Before the Conservatives took control in 2005, Oxfordshire had been hung for 20 years. Labour’s comeback was limited, and, on a smaller council, the Conservatives came within one seat of retaining their overall majority – a position they’ve restored through a Conservative/Independent Alliance. No cabinet seats are involved, but three Independents will work with a Conservative minority administration in the kind of ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement that many thought was as far as Cameron and Clegg would dare to go back in 2010.

In Warwickshire Labour, though never the majority party, have regularly run the council as a minority and were hoping to regain this position. They didn’t, but they did do a deal with the Conservatives, the outcome being a Conservative minority administration, headed by the council’s first woman leader, Izzy Seccombe, with Labour holding the Scrutiny chairs, and the Lib Dems and Greens out in the cold, complaining of a stitch-up.

The unitaries
Now to the four hung unitaries. In Bristol Labour became again the largest single party and, reversing its position last November, agreed that two of its members should join mayor George Ferguson’s all-party cabinet, which will now comprise 2 Labour members, 2 Lib Dems, 1 Conservative, and 1 Green.

In Cornwall a much-discussed multi-party rainbow coalition has become in practice an Independent/Lib Dem coalition with the more or less positive support of Labour, UKIP and Mebyon Kernow (the party for Cornwall), the Conservatives having rejected as tokenism a scaled-back offer of two cabinet seats.

The Isle of Wight will be run again, for the first time since 1973-77, by what are nowadays known as the Island Independents, but this time as a minority administration.

Having dominated the former county council, Labour will run unitary Northumberland for the first time as a minority administration, with the support of the three independents – one of whom will be back as chairman of audit, the post she held as a Conservative councillor before resigning from the party following alleged victimisation by a senior colleague. And to think, there are some who say the local government world is boring.

Chris Game, Institute of Local Government, University of Birmingham

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Seb Coe for ……?

The Conservativehome website has a post suggesting that Sebastian Coe should be considered as a successor to Boris Johnson as the next London Mayor.

Let’s not get carried away. Sebastian Coe was found wanting as an MP and would be even more out of his depth as a replacement for Boris Johnson.

There’s been a few banana skins for him as the face of the Games, not least his dismissive approach to the tickets farce. It’s extremely fortunate that much else has been so good and that the security issue was saved by the intervention of the military, as well as all the good feedback heard about the volunteers, who it appears are well named as, Games Makers.

Will we ever know the full story on how much the London Games owe to the role of Seb Coe? I somehow doubt it, these things have a way of taking on a life of their own and turn into a fog of myth and hype, that can propel people into roles that often prove beyond their capabilities. Which of course takes us full circle to Coe’s selection as an MP; too much hype and not nearly enough substance seems to have been the propellant there.

Forget the mayoral job and just make him a saint, he’ll do far less harm.

Opposition is awake, but not with it!

It’s seldom a good idea to offer your opponent any free publicity.  However when they make inaccurate, ill-informed and in one case, a statement that would be libellous if it were made about a individual and not the council, they must be challenged.

I don’t know the person in question and none of my comments are based on an opinion of him as a person.  They only relate to the glaring inaccuracies in his election leaflet and seek to challenge the vague promises he has made – these are detailed in the italics below, with my responses in bold text.

All of his typographical and grammatical errors have been retained, to ensure that I cannot be accused of changing or censoring his words.

“………. I am your Independent candidate for the Woolram Wygate Ward.” 

The name of the ward is Spalding Wygate!

“The next few years will see more housing constructed towards the end of Woolram Wygate / Monks House Lane and this has an opportunity for great things, I would work with the developer to ensure maximum community benefit.”

The new development will be taking place on land at the Monks House Lane end of Wygate Park, nowhere near Woolram Wygate.

Negotiations regarding community benefits such as a very large area of open space, a community centre, along with land and money for a new primary school, all took place back in 2001.

“In addition there are large sums of money coming into the council from housing developments and the power station. Previous sums which should have been used to transform Spalding have been used to support the general workings of the council.”

“This must stop— money claimed for Spalding should be spent on facilities for all effected by the development”.

There are NO ‘large sums’ of money coming in from housing development.  All the benefits to come from development will be within the area being developed i.e. community centre, play equipment, large public open space area.

The money to be paid by the power station once built, apart from £100,000 for Pinchbeck parish council, has been identified for specific purposes within Spalding.

It is illegal to spend a financial contribution from a developer on anything other than what was detailed in the legal agreement.

The underlined accusation is particularly disturbing.  Not only is it completely WRONG, it appears to make an unfounded accusation of fraud against the district council.

“Those of you near the railway will have noticed night works to prepare the track for freight. These have the potential to cause massive disruption to traffic and an obvious potential risk for emergency vehicle access. I would work with the train companies to ensure this disruption is kept to a minimum.”

Concerns regarding the impact on Spalding are the subject of long term and detailed discussions with both the rail operator and the county council.  We have also raised our concerns with central government, assisted by our local Conservative MP, Mr John Hayes.

“I believe that the council needs change in order to properly represent local views and not be influenced by party politics and government directives.”

Low levels of council tax and weekly refuse and recycling collections are both Conservative Party policies we are proud to promote in South Holland.

Government directives are the basis for almost everything local government does and cannot be ignored whatever the council’s political colour.

“With building land becoming so scarce the green belt between Pinchbeck and Spalding must be preserved.”

Building land is NOT scarce in South Holland and we have a more than ample supply as detailed in the South Holland Adopted Local Plan.

The land between Pinchbeck and Spalding is not designated as Green Belt, a term used to protect green areas around cities from urban sprawl.  In Lincolnshire we call it open countryside.

Parishing Spalding  “There has been talk for many years regarding this issue. I support any measure that gives people more say in their neighbourhood and believe the small initial additional cost would reap huge rewards”.

As well as the so called ‘small initial cost’ (potentially £25,000 to £50,000), setting up a town council for Spalding would require a large increase in the ANNUAL precept charged to the residents, in order to provide ongoing administration, staffing and accommodation for the town council. 

No hint is given as to what these ‘huge rewards’ will be.

“Parish councils can apply for grant and lottery funding for major projects which the council legally cannot.  In addition the new localism bill will allow parish councils to challenge for existing service, resulting in an overall cost saving and improved efficiency.”

“The potential savings would protect us all form additional council tax rises and ensure that all services were run at maximum efficiency”

The district council is NOT prohibited from applying for grant funding from appropriate sources and assists many local organisations in doing this.

Any town council wishing to take over a council service would have to increase its resources to manage that service properly.  Much of the cost would simply transfer from the district council tax to a town council tax. 

“Many of you have children at the pri­mary school, I would welcome any form of partnership working with the school board and governors to ensure it gets the help it deserves”

School board AND governors? Or does he actually mean the Board of Governors?  The primary school already controls its own budget.  Given that its other funding is provided by the County Council, what exactly is the help it deserves from the district council?

“Ensuring the Green space between Pinchbeck and Spalding”

Ensuring it’s what?  This area is already protected by the development boundaries detailed in the South Holland Local Plan.

“Work with train operators to ensure minimal disruption to the level crossing”.

The train operators do not suffer any ‘disruption to the level crossing’.  It is the traffic crossing the level crossing that is disrupted when the gates are closed to allow a train to pass.  We are actively working with the county council to seek a long term solution to the planned increase in rail traffic through Spalding.

I’m having a colour crisis!

There’s an advertisement running in cinemas at the moment, for Orange mobile phones, that has relevance to the way I’m seeing my politics at the moment.  The advert has an animated parrot in it that starts off blue and is then turned orange by the off screen voice that’s controlling things.

My emerging association with this piece of imagery comes about because of statements from ‘call me Dave’, about how he’s going to revolutionise local government (for revolutionise read, kick the guts out of it) and the words of caution from Nick Clegg in today’s Daily Telegraph.

In other words, my Tory blue, whilst not quite turning into LibDem orange, is definitely feeling a bit on the pale side at the moment.  Nick Clegg has gone on the record today, saying about Dave’s latest idea for privatised policing, “Replacing a public monopoly with a private monopoly achieves nothing but reduced accountability” – I wish I’d said that.  All that education hasn’t been wasted after all.  Seriously and somewhat annoyingly, I find myself in agreement with Nick Clegg’s views on this, hence my colour clash.

It may seem somewhat simplistic on my part, but I still cannot see how a shift from an organisation that only has one goal – delivering services, to one that has making a profit by delivering public services, is a sound way forward.  As Gordon Brown once said, I agree with Nick!