Pickles defends his tough love approach

If it wasn’t so bloody infuriating to read such utter b******ks from this blustering windbag, it would be comical. Promoting his vindictive and spiteful sound bites as ‘tough love’, hopefully will attract the ridicule it deserves from all corners of local government. Disappointingly, the editorial page of the Daily Telegraph will be falling over itself, in the next day or two, to praise this latest guff.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
4 February, 2013 | By Ruth Keeling

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has professed his “love” for local government, praised it for doing a better job at cutting the deficit than the rest of government.

The declaration came after a tumultuous few weeks during which more than 30 Conservative council leaders wrote a joint letter of complaint to the prime minister warning of a “fractious relationship” with ministers.

Speaking at the New Local Government Network’s annual conference, Mr Pickles declared: “I love local government.

“Sometimes I do take liberties in trying to push you on…but it is on the basis of a loving relationship. I just want you to do a little bit better.

“I am there cheering you on, I want you to do better and you can do better.”

He added: “Local government has been absolutely outstanding in dealing with the deficit. If other bits of government had shown your resolve we would be in a better position.”

Mr Pickles was responding to a question from Peter John (Lab), leader of Southwark LBC, questioning the mixed messages from ministers about the role of councillors.

“Two years ago you were questioning the need for a chief executive, but then two weeks ago [former housing minister] Grant Shapps said we were the equivalent of scout leaders. Are we volunteers or proto-chief executives?”

Cllr John was referring to a BBC interview during which Mr Shapps argued that an increase in councillor allowances in recognition of their time and career sacrifice would be inappropriate as they were “volunteers”.

Mr Shapps’ comments has sparked an angry response from councillors, especially as they came shortly after local government minister Brandon Lewis had called for councillors to be barred from the Local Government Pension Scheme. Mr Lewis has also argues they were “volunteers” but not “professional, full-time politicians”.

Mr Pickles’ protestations of love for local government were dismissed by shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn whose speech to the conference came immediately after Pickles’.

“It is no good asking local government to take on this challenge [of falling funding and rising service demand] if at the same time the people expected to take on the challenge are criticised, patronised and belittled.

Threat of revolt wins Tory shires more money

Copied from Sunday Telegraph 20 Jan 2013
By Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor

MINISTERS have backed down and promised more money after a revolt by shire Tories against “grossly unfair” cuts in local government spending.
A group of about 120 councils, mostly Conservative-controlled, warned Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, that reductions in spending announced last month would “crucify” rural communities.
The group was considering bringing a judicial review against Mr Pickles’s settlement, which it said would see “predominantly rural” councils receive 3.81 per cent less from central government compared with cuts of 2.05 per cent for urban councils.
Andrew Lansley, the Commons Leader, has signalled that a “correction” will be applied to next year’s spending figures.
Mr Lansley said the difference between spending on urban and rural councils was a “matter of concern”.

(Some) Districts given thumbs up for tax rises of up to 8%

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Districts given thumbs up for tax rises of up to 8%
2 January, 2013 | By Ruth Keeling

“Low cost” district councils who have been granted leeway over council tax next year could increase rates by up to 8% without holding a referendum.

LGC has identified the 50 district councils that are set to benefit from the extra flexibility over council tax setting announced in last month’s local government settlement.

Under the proposals set out by local government minister Brandon Lewis, districts within the lowest quartile of council tax rates in 2012-13 will be able to increase tax above 2% without a public vote as long as the increase is not more than £5 in cash terms.

There are 50 district councils in the ‘lowest quartile’ with average Band D council tax rates below £142. They include Breckland BC which has the lowest council tax rate in the country at £65 and where an extra £5 equates to an 8% increase, as well as West Oxfordshire DC and Hambleton DC, where a £5 rise is a 6% increase.

Mr Lewis, speaking to councillors during a Q&A the day after the announcement, said it was only fair that “low cost” authorities be granted some additional flexibility. However, he said it was not clear the same flexibility would be offered after 2013-14.

The potential rises available to each of the 50 councils is listed below. There is no indication yet that any of the councils in question plan to take advantage of the extra flexibility available to them.

Council Maximum increase without a referendum (£5)
Breckland 8%
West Oxfordshire 6%
Hambleton 6%
South Staffordshire 5%
Tewkesbury 5%
Basingstoke & Deane 5%
North Dorset 5%
Wychavon 5%
Hinckley & Bosworth 4%
East Lindsey 4%
Broxbourne 4%
Broadland 4%
South Cambridgeshire 4%
Vale of White Horse 4%
South Oxfordshire 4%
East Devon 4%
King’s Lynn & West Norfolk 4%
Cherwell 4%
East Northamptonshire 4%
West Dorset 4%
Exeter 4%
Charnwood 4%
Stratford-on-Avon 4%
Test Valley 4%
Huntingdonshire 4%
Wellingborough 4%
Sedgemoor 4%
Rushcliffe 4%
Malvern Hills 4%
South Norfolk 4%
West Somerset 4%
Wycombe 4%
Chichester 4%
Eastleigh 4%
Daventry 4%
East Hampshire 4%
South Kesteven 4%
Taunton Deane 4%
Runnymede 4%
Forest Heath 4%
Blaby 4%
South Hams 4%
North Norfolk 4%
East Cambridgeshire 4%
North Kesteven 4%
Chesterfield 4%
Horsham 4%
Fareham 4%
Ashford 4%
Ribble Valley 4%

Peers champion ‘graph of doom’ prediction in Lords debate

Copied from Local Government Chronicle
3 December, 2012 | By Keith Cooper

The government’s effort to discredit local government predictions of a looming social care funding crisis have failed to convince Labour and Liberal Democrat members of the House of Lords.

Peers debating the future of social care in the upper chamber this week pointed repeatedly to the now-famous “Barnet Graph of Doom” which shows that council budgets could soon be eaten up entirely by an inexorable increase in adult social care.

Senior civil servants dispatched to the Communities and Local Government had this month dismissed this prediction as overly ‘apocalyptic’ and too ‘pessimistic’.

But Baroness Barker (Lib Dem) told peers it was “understandable that people talk in apocalyptic terms about social care”.

“The Barnet graph of doom says it all. I have to say that the LGA laid it on by doing exactly what I would have done in the circumstances, which is to pick the very worst case.”

Lord Lipsey (Lab) also pointed to the north London borough’s graphic portrayal of the alleged impending social care crisis. “[The Barnet Graph of Doom] shows what the council expects to spend on services and, on another line, what it expects to be allowed to spend in total.

“By 2030, spending on social services alone, the bulk of that on old people, exceeds the total budget,” he added. “Either no bins will be emptied in Barnet…there will be no libraries or parks- no town hall even- or there will be further big cuts for old people.”

Lord Warner (Lab), a member of the Dilnot commission, agreed with Lord Lipsey’s characterisation of social care funding. “This will mean that big cities in particular lose their civic services around arts, leisure, and other things which make for a civilised society as their authorities concentrate on social care and child protection.”

Earle Howe (Con), parlimentary under-secretary of state Department of Health, challenged the “story of cuts” portrayed by his fellow peers.

“We remain firmly of the view that the funding we have provided is enough to allow authorities to maintain access to services and to provide good-quality care. Independent research from the King’s Fund corroborates this.”

“This is not the story of cuts as some critics have made out, and there is only limited evidence of the impact on services or on users.”

Baroness Pitkeathley (Lab) and vice president of Carers UK, who opened the debat sais she found it hard to recognise “the picture of local services” painted by Lord Howe.

Parish councils ‘confused’ by government stance on benefit deals

Copied from Local Government Chronicle
4 December, 2012 | By Ruth Keeling

District and parish councils have been left disappointed by the government’s decision to make every district negotiate council tax benefit deals with their parishes.

The move goes against the majority of submissions to a government consultation on the funding formula. Ninety-four per cent of respondents backed the creation of an unadjusted tax base which would avoid the need for detailed calculations for every town and parish authority.

Sandra Cowley, head of finance at Stroud DC and council tax lead for the Society of District Council Treasurers, described the decision as “astounding”; Michael Chater OBE, chairman of the National Association of Local Councils, expressed “strong disappointment”.

The government’s consultation response said it had returned to its original proposal because of concerns about the financial burden on districts should they be left covering parish shares of any mismatch between council tax benefit funding and provision.

The government’s apparent disregard for parish councils’ viewpoint comes after communities secretary Eric Pickles described ast month described them as “localism’s magic wand”.

Mr Chater said billing authorities had “a mixed track record of passing down finance to grassroots councils”. The decision to revert to the government’s original proposal to leave the decision to negotiation between billing and local councils would “put a strain on the delivery of localism and potentially weaken the trust local councils have in government”.

“The real risk for some local councils, is that the billing authority pays over no grant and the council tax base is reduced so resulting in an increase in the council tax rate charged for the local council without there being any change in the basic precept,” he added.

Ms Cowley said colleagues were “confused” by the government’s approach.

“I find it astounding after they have gone to all the trouble of running the consultation,” she said. Responses to the government’s consultation showed that 94% thought the unadjusted tax base was the right approach, including 77% of district councils who expressed concern about the complexities of calculating grant shares for a large number of parishes. “With the majority saying this is an issue they have chosen to go with the minority,” Ms Cowley added.

One district treasurer who did not want to be named said: “This is bad news our town and parish councils set their precepts mainly in December and they thought this issue had been resolved. How we liaise with more than 100 parishes at this time of year will be a new challenge.”

The Department for Communities & Local Government’s consultation response said: “16 respondents disagreed with the proposals with billing authorities making up the majority of those disagreeing. The general view was that the proposals would unfairly protect parish councils from the impact of localising council tax support and would put a financial pressure on the billing authority. Some billing authorities suggested this potential financial pressure would be higher where the parish has a precept larger than that of the district council.”

The response also said that taking action on the “basis of an assumption that billing authorities will not pass down funding…is contrary to the spirit of localism” and, as a result, “the government considers that greater weight should be given to the potential for the proposal set out in the council tax base consultation to increase the financial burden on billing authorities”.

‘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”.

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