Councillor pensions may come back to bite MPs – I do hope so!

20140328-162707.jpg

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online

Councillor pensions may come back to bite MPs

26 March, 2014 | By Nick Golding

Not content with merely stripping local government of its powers and finance, many central politicians appear intent on removing the livelihoods of its members too.

The decision to introduce legislation to remove councillors’ access to the local government pension scheme constitutes another reason not to stand for election, represent a community and take difficult decisions with the intention of improving lives.

There can be no greater service to the community than sticking one’s head above the parapet to be accountable for the destiny of residents – and face the consequences if one’s ideas are rejected or lead to problems. But applauding public service should not be used to justify any argument that those who perform it should be entirely selfless and receive little reward.

While there may be many good councillors who regard themselves as altruistic volunteers, along the lines suggested by Conservative chairman Grant Shapps, it is not necessarily desirable or wise to give responsibility for huge budgets to people whose only qualification for the role is being an enthusiast or volunteer.

Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson (Lib Dem) points out that he receives just £28,000 annually to run an authority with a budget of £520m. Without intending to cast doubt on Cllr Vernon-Jackson’s capabilities, this sum is generally insufficient for anyone with a professional background to seriously consider local politics as an arena for their talents.

As the Co-operative Group has found, well-meaning but non‑specialist individuals are not necessarily conducive to ensuring vast organisations are well governed and look after the interests of those dependent on them. Far better to pay competitive wages or allowances – which in the case of councillors will always be less than those offered by large private organisations – and give yourself the best chance of avoiding scandal or incompetence.

The LGA’s 2010 census of councillors found their average age was 60. Just 12% were under 40. This is hardly representative of the population and potentially means that the needs of young people and young families are not understood. Local democracy becomes meaningless if only certain sections of society are represented so it is essential that council chambers become more than the preserve of the retired. High-profile councillor positions should offer a full-time wage and others some reward to augment the inevitable reduced working hours elsewhere.

It is entirely legitimate to query whether pensions constitute the most cost-effective means of encouraging people to become councillors. More generous allowances could provide a greater inducement. But to simply do away with a big incentive with no consideration of alternatives will be seen by councillors as a slap in the face.

Any parliamentary decision to end councillor pensions may come back to bite MPs when they seek the help of party activists – many of them councillors – in election campaigns. Ironically MPs defeated as a result would retain a highly generous pension.

Nick Golding, editor, LGC

We hope you enjoyed the above article. To get unlimited access to all articles on LGCplus.com you will need to have a paid subscription. Subscribe now to save yourself £100 off the standard subscription rate.

UKIP may not only run riot in European elections

Holding the European Parliamentary elections on same day as the local council elections this coming May, is likely to see more than a few councillors loose their seats for all the wrong reasons.
We’ve already seen the UKIP effective have an impact on the local government elections that took place in 2013. This can surely only be seen as an indication of what is likely to happen this May, when UKIP have both European and council election candidates on offer.
Despite repeatedly telling people that a vote for UKIP is a wasted vote at the local level – your local council can’t stop immigration, it can’t take us out of Europe, it can’t even stop the EU from grabbing more and more power. So what exactly is the point of voting for the UKIP candidate, if all you want to do is send a message to Westminster,manner that candidate is only interested in national issues?
Overarching all of this, is the stark fact, that holding both the European and local council elections on the same day, knowing how strong the UKIP protest vote can be, shows how little regard the government has for its so called grass roots Conservative councillors.
The government will of course sight cost as the reason for holding them on the same day and were it not for the proven negative and distorting effect of UKIP on local government election outcomes, I might agree. However, in this case, consideration should have been given to the potential impact and an alternative arrangement sort.
Of course, given this government’s completely negative attitude to local government, I’ve no doubt that this issue was never even given a thought.

Local government – something we used to have in the UK?

I am sure we would all agree with Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell, LGA Chairman, when he said last week:

“While this Budget has not brought further cuts for local government, it has not changed the fact that the next two years will be the toughest yet for people who use and rely upon the services which councils provide. The black hole in funding for local bus services, a £10.5 billion backlog in road repairs and continuing uncertainty over funding for much-needed reforms of the adult social care system have yet to be properly addressed.”

By next year, central government funding for councils will have been cut by 40 per cent during this Parliament.
If we are to avoid an upturn in the economy coinciding with a decline in public services, we need nothing less than a fundamental reform of the way the public sector works and an honest reappraisal of how public services are provided and paid for in post-austerity Britain.
———————————————
Add to all of this, the recent announcement that the government is looking at centralising children services in England, combined with the push for academy schools, both services currently delivered by county councils, and you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s a hidden ‘European’ agenda in play here.
The last labour government made an abortive attempt to up the game of parish councils, encouraging them to takeover the delivery of services that were being carried by district councils. As well as leading to the demise of two tier government in shire areas, the idea seemed to be about refocusing local people on to the parochial (very local) and away from greater than local issues, thereby strengthening the position of the then emerging regional government bodies.
The current government seems to be hell bent on a similar goal of undermining, or even eliminating local government at the district level and possibly county level, but without anything being put in place between the very local (parish) and national levels.
One can only suggest that the way things are done in many European countries, with village and town councils run by some form of mayor and looking after the basics, a regional government body at the next level and everything else controlled by the national government, is what all our MPs want, no matter what party they represent.

Yet another Tory showing his utter disdain for Local Government

Axe town hall exec’
Council bosses will be swept out of town halls under radical plans by ministers. Unelected chief execs on six-figure salaries would be replaced by elected council leaders – saving taxpayers millions. The idea was pushed by Tory MP Andrew Griffiths.

In the same week a DCLG minister tells councillors that they don’t deserve to be in the Local Government Pension Scheme, because they are no more than community volunteers, a Tory MP wants councillors to replace chief executives – unbelievable!

NPPF additions, it’s becoming more and more like ‘guided’ planning

Following in the footsteps of the bovver booted Eric Pickles approach to Localism – called ‘guided Localism’, we are now seeing more and more ‘guided’ planning.

20140315-115458.jpg

Despite their claims that this government had swept away thousands of pages of planning guidance and regulation and replace it with a 52 page, clear and succinct document called the National Planning Policy Framework, we continue to see more and more detailed additional guidance being added to fill the huge holes in the planning system, created by the NPPF.

As an aside, the NPPF was never, ever only 52 pages, end of story. As soon as it was published, I went through it, checking for how many other documents were referred to in the numerous footnotes, detailed in the small print at the bottom of nearly every page. I stopped when I got to 1800 pages plus, as my suspicions had been confirmed. Admittedly, some of these footnotes have themselves been superceded, but the fact remains, that the NPPF was a con job.

This extract from the latest addition to the NPPF +, is tantalising to say the least, given the poor quality of the new housing currently being built. The full document can be viewed by following this link.

http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/blog/guidance/

Housing design issues
Well-designed housing should be functional, attractive and sustainable. It should also be adaptable to the changing needs of its occupants.

In well-designed places affordable housing is not distinguishable from private housing by its design, nor is it banished to the least attractive part of the site.

Consideration should be given to the servicing of dwellings such as the storage of bins and bikes, access to meter boxes, space for drying clothes or places for deliveries. Such items should be carefully considered and well designed to ensure they are discreet and can be easily used in a safe way.

Unsightly bins can damage the visual amenity of an area. Carefully planned bin storage is, therefore, particularly important. Local authorities should ensure that each dwelling is carefully planned to ensure there is enough discretely designed and accessible storage space for all the different types of bin used in the local authority area (for example landfill, recycling, food waste).

In terms of parking, there are many different approaches that can support successful outcomes, such as on-street parking, in-curtilage parking and basement parking. Natural surveillance of parked cars is an important consideration. Car parking and service areas should be considered in context to ensure the most successful outcome can be delivered in each case.

We don’t need a tilt, we need an earthquake

Balance of power tilts back towards councils, by Richard Garlick
14 March 2014 by Richard Garlick

20140315-011903.jpg

The planning minister struck a slightly penitent note when he was explaining his finalised planning practice guidance to the Daily Telegraph last week.

Nick Boles said that additions were being made to planning guidance in some areas where the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was “not working as it should”.

The message to the Telegraph readers was clear: we are listening to your concerns about an NPPF-enabled development free-for-all, and we are taking steps to bring it under control.

It was the latest step ministers have taken to insulate the government from such criticisms. Only a few days earlier, Boles had written to complain about an inspector who had told Reigate & Banstead Borough Council to release green belt land, saying the latter “had invited misinterpretation of government policy”.

He can fairly argue that the finalised guidance will in some ways bolster local planning authorities’ control of development. But it would be an oversimplification to suggest that ministers are reaching for the reverse gear on their planning liberalisation.

Boles can argue that the guidance will bolster local controls on development
Alongside the guidance, Boles confirmed changes that will mean that in most places planning permission is no longer needed to convert shops outside key shopping areas, or agricultural buildings with a floor space of up to 450 square metres, into homes.

These are major incursions into local democratic control of development. What’s more, the guidance itself instructs planning authorities to leave no stone unturned in the struggle to make brownfield sites viable and competitive with greenfield alternatives.

Commentators have suggested that this will force councils to accept lower design standards on brownfield sites than elsewhere, as well as relinquishing any claim to deciding the scale of developer contribution necessary to provide the infrastructure needed to support the scheme. Boles may be bolstering councils on some fronts, but he continues to undermine them on others.

That said, the finalised guidance does offer genuine reinforcement for town halls.

No longer is it the government’s position that only “in exceptional circumstances” will applications be dismissed as premature in terms of prejudicing an emerging plan. Guidance now spells out that the duty to cooperate is not a “duty to accept”, and planning authorities are not obliged to meet their neighbours’ unmet needs. Unmet housing need is unlikely to constitute the “very special circumstances” needed to justify development in the green belt, the guidance says.

Not of all these provisions are major changes to the status quo. In some cases, the finalised guidance is confirming an approach that councils have already been arguing for successfully in front of inspectors, or which the secretary of state for communities and local government has been enforcing in call-ins. But, cumulatively, these and other measures in the guidance look likely to, in some sectors at least, slightly tip the balance of power back towards local authorities.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning richard.garlick@haymarket.com.

It’s called throwing the baby out with the bath water

20140312-111956.jpg

I can’t believe that these councillors can be so naïve as to think they would gain support from the planning puppet master, Nick Boles. How can they not realise that the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) is simply doing what it is told by DCLG and it’s current incumbents, Eric Pickles and the hyperactive Nick Boles? They in turn, are of course under the thumb of George Osborne, who seems to believe that building hundreds of thousands of houses,min a short space of time, will be the saviour of the UK economy.
If you want to improve things in planning terms, don’t throw out what’s been proven to work over many years, instead, get rid of the ‘external elements’ that are undermining it.

PINS fulfils a vital role, by addressing the sometimes aberrant behaviour of some planning departments and their associated planning committees. How else would an applicant, with a perfectly reasonable planning proposal, gain redress against a council that had refused that application, despite it being in compliance with both local and national planning policies?

Until you can be sure that elected members will always behave in a totally professional and unbiased manner, when considering an application and that planning officers will get it right every time, PINS will continue to be an essential element of the planning system.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Leader urges Planning Inspectorate abolition
12 March, 2014 | By Mark Smulian

A council leader has called for abolition of the Planning Inspectorate after being sent a “bitterly disappointing” letter by planning minister Nick Boles.

A delegation of North Devon DC councillors (pictured) led by local MP Sir Nick Harvey (Lib Dem) handed in a letter at 10 Downing Street and met Mr Boles to highlight problems created by government planning policy on their community.

Council leader Brian Greenslade (Lib Dem) said that while the minister had been encouraging when they met his follow-up letter was short, unhelpful and evasive.

“I think he was got at by civil servants after our meeting,” Cllr Greenslade said.

The council delegation, led by local MP Sir Nick Harvey (Lib Dem), raised concerns about the refusal of planning inspectors to count inactive sites with planning permission towards councils’ required five-year land supply for housebuilding, and inspectors’ habit of substituting their own decisions for those of councils.

North Devon also objected to proposals to deprive councils of the New Homes Bonus where planning permission is given only after an appeal to inspectors.

“We were all bitterly disappointed with the short response from the planning minister, who avoided all of our main points, despite making positive comments to our councillors at the time of the meeting,” Cllr Greenslade said.

He added: “We believe that the localism agenda and the restoration of democracy to planning will be greatly enhanced if Mr Pickles were to follow the example he set when he scrapped the Audit Commission by also scrapping the Planning Inspectorate.

“I understand this is a course of action favoured by a number of Conservative MPs.”