Porter about to bow out of LGA? But his one liners will live on it seems

Local Government Chronicle online
Friday 06 May 2016
LGC briefing: Local elections analysed
Commentary on the local election results

Political earthquake of the day: Breaking: Porter predicts Tories have lost control of LGA

Under chaos theory a hurricane can ensue in China as a result of something as minor and apparently unrelated as a butterfly flapping its wings over New Mexico.

On a similar principle, something as insignificant as a set of local elections in which virtually no seats changed control is on the cusp of causing a political earthquake in Westminster.

The political earthquake takes the form of a change in power at the Local Government Association but the butterfly may be composed of slightly more than a set of only moderately compelling electoral contests. As will be explained below, political skulduggery lurked behind its local democracy wings.

To understand this chaos we need to cast our minds back a year when the results of the local elections left the LGA on a political knife-edge. The Conservative group came out slightly above Labour after all of the calculations were undertaken to determine which party was in the ascendancy.

Within the past 24 hours it seemed likely the Tories would retain LGA control. Few people believed Jeremy Corbyn’s prediction that he would gain seats and the first results last night showed the Conservatives doing better than Labour. All seemed set for another year of Gary Porter leading the LGA.

Cllr Porter – a rare politician, noticeable for his plain speaking – has won plaudits for his honesty and, should his term of office come to an end, he may well leave us with as many memorable quotes as his predecessors managed since the LGA came into being. This is no disrespect to the LGA’s former chairs, more a compliment to Cllr Porter’s outspokenness. His putting the District Councils Network “on the naughty step” for arguing its members should retain their current portion of business rates will live long in the memory.

Cllr Porter’s demise has not been caused by the electorate turning against the Tories – the parties have at the time of writing lost an almost identical (but fairly negligible) number of seats – but the arithmetic turning against them.

The earthquake has been the result of Sheffield City Council unexpectedly deciding to re-join the LGA, just before the deadline to do so last night. With the LGA’s power balance determined by the number of councillors each party holds and the population they serve, the readmission of a city with a population in excess of half a million people could be crucial.

Sheffield had previously been one of a small number of councils, including Barnet, Wandsworth and Bromley LBCs, which decided against LGA membership. Its decision to re-join the association shortly before a final deadline of 10pm seemed to catch most off guard.

The complex calculations that determine who wins LGA control have yet to be determined but Cllr Porter thought Sheffield would be the deciding factor. He told LGC’s David Paine: “I will be surprised if the LGA is still Conservative controlled by the time the final count is done.”

He may also consider it unfortunate that the remaining councils which are not LGA members are Conservative strongholds. None of the three Tory-dominated London boroughs had the political cunning – or the financial commitment – to opt to pay to join the LGA at the last minute. Even if they decide to join today, their membership will not be considered in the calculations until after next year’s election.

In the past 24 hours, announcements that have been timed to coincide with the polls have proved more significant than the polls themselves.

Of the 124 councils with elections, just four have so far changed political control.

But we have seen a new frontrunner emerge in the race to be Greater Manchester’s elected mayor in the form of Andy Burnham. The shadow home secretary let it be known that he was considering swapping national politics for local politics at 10pm, as the polls were closing.

While his move is being analysed by the national media for indicating frontbench despair with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership, it also signifies a sea change: suddenly local politics offer prominent politicians an alternative career path to Westminster.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, it emerged that the government is to U-turn on its plan to force all schools to become academies. Many councils feared the move would result in them being unable to meet their duty to ensure all children had a school place.

This is one set of elections in which the burying of bad news (Mr Burnham’s possible departure from the frontbench is clearly bad for Mr Corbyn and the announcement had to be timed to minimise the damage) and political opportunism has triumphed over the ballot box.

Should Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes emerge as the new Labour LGA chair he will be hoping that Barnet, Bromley or Wandsworth do not attempt the same trick as Sheffield in a year’s time.

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.

South Holland to benefit from working with the big boys?

Clearly, the landscape for local government will continue to be very uncertain, no matter what combination of political parties make up the next government.  Much as I would hope to see certainty and a Conservative majority returned, the British public seem so confused by what’s being offered to them and have such a short memory when it comes to the damage done by Labour whilst in power, that anything could happen.

It’s worth remembering that Labour didn’t just drain the national bank account dry and borrow billions of pounds on our behalf,  they also spent their time in office, unravelling much of what we consider to be the British way of life.  As well as liberalising the gambling industry, that now sees us suffer non-stop bingo, casino and betting adverts on the television, it was Labour that liberalised the licensing laws, leading to the town centre, drink sodden no- go areas, our police have to combat every weekend.

Labour also failed to take up the option of limiting access to the UK, from countries joining the EU, claiming that only 20,000 would come, when in fact 1 million did, and then dismantled our boarder controls, because they would now no longer be needed.  There’s a whole swath of badly drafted, back of a fag-packet policy, dreamt up by Tony Blair and his sofa cabinet, that we are still suffering the consequences of, yet some 30%+ of the British public remain willing to forgive and forget.  Come on Labour supporters, even if you can’t bring yourselves to vote Conservative, don’t let Labour and the two Eds back in so that can screw things up all over again, vote LibDem, or the Greens, they’re both pretty harmless in small numbers.

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Proposal for Peterborough based combined authority 22 April, 2015 | By Mark Smulia

 The leader of the Local Government Association’s Conservative group is backing a proposed combined authority that could stretch across four counties and two unitaries.  Gary Porter is also leader of South Holland DC where the local Conservative party election manifesto said the council would work with “new partners from Peterborough, Cambridge, Leicestershire, Norfolk and Lincolnshire to create a combined authority”.
This would seek to improve local transport, increase economic development and drive regeneration, the proposal added.  Cllr Porter told LGC: “It would not cover all the counties mentioned just the economic area with Peterborough at its centre.  “We’ve had talks among leaders and chief executives are working on ideas to go to a roundtable discussion after the elections, but I can’t say now who would be in and out.”
A South Holland council report last month said that councils potentially interested in a combined authority were Fenland DC, Peterborough City Council, Kings Lynn & West Norfolk BC, Rutland CC and South Kesteven DC and that Boston BC formed part of a ‘functioning economic area’.  Peterborough leader Marco Cereste (Con) told LGC the idea was “most definitely something we’re exploring”.
Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has previously mooted a ‘Greater Cambridgeshire’ combined authority including Peterborough and Cambridgeshire CC. The two authorities are currently piloting a scheme allowing them to retain 100% of business rates growth.  Cllr Cereste said he did not see “any conflict between what Gary and I are doing and our work with Cambridgeshire”.  “If that works it could be extended across any new structure that is created,” he added.  “No matter who wins the election local authorities are going to have to look at new things as times will still be difficult.”
But Boston leader Peter Bedford (Con) said: “Boston hopes to end up in whatever arrangement the [Lincolnshire] county council does.”  Asked about the idea promoted by South Holland, he said: “That is Gary’s thinking, but ours is to be with Lincolnshire. We’re 35 miles from Lincoln and from Peterborough and we are a rural area.”
South Holland’s initiative is a further attempt to solve the vexed question of how to create combined authorities in East Anglia.  The council voted last month to join the Greater Cambridgeshire Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership in addition to its membership of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP.

Kings Lynn & West Norfolk leader Nick Daubeny (Con) last week said he’d spoken “in general terms” to Norfolk councils, Peterborough and Fenland about the combined authority idea, while South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller (Con) predicted councils would “cluster round Norwich, Ipswich, Peterborough and Cambridge”.

Cambridgeshire CC leader Steve Count said: “There are a lot of different ideas around at the moment and its right everyone puts theirs forward and see where we get to.”  Rutland leader Roger Begy (Con) said: “The council like many others is considering a number of possible options.”

County councillor response in Voice is a fiction

Cllr Reg Shore, the Lincolnshire County Council portfolio holder for Waste & Recycling, appears to have read a completely different document to me, based on his recent letter in the Spalding Voice.
The county council have not been doing any ‘working with’ as far as South Holland is concerned. What they have done, is tell us that they will no longer be paying recycling credits to the three Lincolnshire councils that have their own recycling contracts. As if that wasn’t enough, they have also told these councils, that the county is taking over the disposal of the recycling that these councils collect.
Just to add insult to injury, the county council has put in place something they are calling transfer payments. The double whammy for the three councils affected, is that these payment will be made to all seven councils, including the four that are not actually loosing any recycling credits, or contract revenue.
Cllr Shore has kindly informed readers that I was wrong about the county council grabbing the £10 a ton South Holland currently receives. At the time of writing my previous blog entry on this issue, I was not privy to the details of the contract the county council had negotiated. Imagine my surprise, when I read a briefing note stating that Lincolnshire County Council had secured a contract that gives them NO REVENUE! Ironically, Cllr Shore emphasises this point in his letter, as though it is somehow to his and the county council’s credit – extraordinary!!
Just to be clear; Lincolnshire County Council will stop paying South Holland DC and two other councils, North and South Kesteven, £42 a ton in recycling credits from 2016. Also, with immediate effect, SHDC will be loosing the £10 a ton paid by the materials contractor and that helped to support our recycling collections.
The financial impact for South Holland will be:
– £377,830 after three years
– £895,570 after five years
Cllr Shore’s claim that every council will gain financially and that this should be viewed as ‘a real opportunity’, is technically correct, but only if you ignore completely the last 20+ years of recycling credit payments received from LCC and the last 3 years of revenue, received for our recycling, from our various contracts.
The proposal now, is that we all pretend that the last 20+ years of recycling never happened, that there were no recycling credits and that we were never able to sell our recycling. We also have to ‘pretend’ that we haven’t managed to achieve a recycling rate of 30%. This is because the county council has offered to make incentive payments for any increase in recycling rates, from this point forward. They have also offered to share some of the revenue they receive from the contractor – a contract that currently provides no revenue – how generous is that!
Had the county council been more upfront and open about these proposals and agreed to discuss openly all of the financial issues, there would have been no need for this hostility. Unfortunately, the only image in Cllr Shore’s ‘big picture’ is the one showing the county council, with every other council in Lincolnshire conveniently cropped out.

As a footnote, the government has just announced the financial settlement
For the forthcoming financial year. South Holland will be loosing a further 6.2% of its funding, equivalent to £0.755m.

Councils continue to suffer from the Labour legacy

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Next five years to see higher-than-expected cuts
10 December, 2014 | By Kaye Wiggins

Council spending is set to be over 4% lower than previously projected in both 2016-17 and the following two years, it has emerged, after George Osborne heralded “colossal” spending cuts.

Forecasts published by the Office for Budget Responsibility in the wake of the autumn statement last week showed “net current expenditure” by English local authorities would be £106.9bn in 2016-17, down from the £111.9bn forecast by the watchdog in March.

The OBR’s latest forecast for 2017-18 spending is £106.9, down from £111.6bn in its March forecast. In 2018-19 the OBR predicts spending will fall by £4.9bn more than it forecast in March.

The revised forecasts, which have emerged as councils await the publication of the provisional local government finance settlement for 2015-16, were due in large part to a steeper-than-assumed fall in central government grants to councils.

This came after the publication of the autumn statement revealed plans to accelerate public spending cuts in a bid to balance the budget by 2018-19 and generate a surplus by 2019-20.

The OBR’s gloomy forecasts also showed local authority current spending, excluding education, public health and housing benefit, would fall from 4% of nominal GDP in 2009-10 to 2.5% by 2019-20. In 2014-15 the figure is 2.9%.

In a speech on the day of the autumn statement, OBR chair Robert Chote said there was “no robust basis” on which to assume that cuts in overall public spending were “undeliverable”.

Mr Chote noted that councils were “in aggregate still adding to their financial reserves rather than running them down.”

The OBR’s figures showed non-schools reserves would rise from 10.7% of councils’ net current expenditure in 2009-10 to 24% in 2019-20. The watchdog has assumed councils will add to their current reserves by £1.5bn in 2014-15 and will continue to add to their reserves, but by decreasing amounts, until 2018-19.

The OBR reached its figures using Treasury policy assumptions for total spending after 2015-16, assuming grants to local government remained the same as a proportion of overall spending as they were due to be in 2015-16.

The figures emerged as Paul Johnson, director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, said public spending cuts would be made on a “colossal scale” over the next five years. This could cause the “role and shape of the state” to change “beyond recognition”, he said.

Jon Rowney, London Councils’ strategic lead for finance, procurement and performance, told LGC: “Our early analysis suggests the pace of the cuts could be steeper and faster than previously thought.” The body had previously estimated London boroughs would see a 60% reduction in core funding from central government between 2010-11 and 2018-19.

Local government minister Kris Hopkins said: “What these figures actually show is a big increase in council reserves. Local authorities should of course maintain a healthy cushion when balancing the books but such substantial reserves are completely unnecessary and should be tapped into to protect frontline services and keep council tax down.

“Councils should be making creative use of reserves to address short-term costs, such as restructuring or investing now to realise savings in the longer-term.”

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