Well they would wouldn’t they – quality is already a distant memory

Reforms outlined by housing secretary Robert Jenrick have been broadly welcomed by the built environment industry, but they warn that quality must not be compromised.

Writing in the The Telegraph, Jenrick says England’s “outdated and cumbersome” planning system has contributed to a “generational divide” between those who own property and those who don’t.

Later this week, a policy paper will be published comprising “radical and necessary reforms” to the planning system. 

“Our reforms seek a more diverse and competitive housing industry, in which smaller builders can thrive alongside the big players and where planning permissions are turned into homes faster than they are today,” he explains. “Creating a new planning system isn’t a task we undertake lightly, but it is both an overdue and a timely reform.” 

Responding on Twitter, the RTPI said the government appears to have recognised its “tests” and in particular its four tests for zoning.

“As part of these reforms, we’re pleased that government seems to be making a commitment to maintaining local democracy, use of locally agreed design codes, increased focus on strategic planning and clear direction on meeting net-zero carbon targets.

“We are also interested to see an intention to move away from ‘notices on lamp posts’ to a more interactive, accessible online system – by focusing more on digital, planners will be freed up to do more proactive, strategic work, focused on delivery.

“We await the full policy paper due later this week. The RTPI looks forward to leading the discussion on any reform to the planning system in England by convening a series of round tables across its nine English regions to discuss the reforms in detail.”

‘Gross oversimplification’

Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at countryside charity CPRE said: “The government’s intended reforms sound like a gross oversimplification of the planning system. First and foremost, our planning process must respond to the needs of communities, both in terms of providing much-needed affordable homes and other vital infrastructure, and green spaces for our health and wellbeing. 

“The planning process as it stands may not be perfect, but instead of deregulating planning, the government must invest in planning. Quality development needs a quality planning system with community participation at its heart.

“The secretary of state has claimed that these planning reforms will still be very much ‘people-focused’ but that flies in the face of what has been outlined today by the government. We eagerly await more details and will be joining forces with a range of other housing, planning and environmental campaigning bodies to push back hard on the deregulation agenda, which has never been the answer to the question of how best to boost economic growth.”

‘So far so good’

Jenrick’s plans to “strip bureaucracy and delay” from the planning system are a case of “so far so good” for Peter Hogg, UK cities director at Arcadis.

“The new approach may make it easier to get a consent, but how will it make the all-important financial viability – without proof of which housebuilders won’t build – more certain? Unless the policy addresses this we will have more planning consents but not more homes.

“Perhaps most of all though, where is the voice of the community in this new approach? Vibrant, sustainable liveable places take root and succeed where interests are balanced and the community is at the heart of shaping and defining a place. It will be important to make sure that ‘permission in principle’ doesn’t equate to ‘ignoring communities’ in fact.”

Acknowledgement of social infrastructure encouraging

Ken Dytor, founder and executive chairman of Urban Catalyst, said: “It’s encouraging that the government has put social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals alongside housing in its plans to speed up development.

“While the housing secretary is right that the uninspiring design of some developments fuels Nimbyism, concerns over additional pressure on existing public services are typically another major driver behind local opposition to new development.

“Similarly encouraging is the drive to harness greater community participation in the planning process by embracing a more 21st century tech-savvy approach. This should hopefully lead to a wider range of voices being heard, resulting in more inclusive, balanced developments.

“However, if the government’s ‘build, build, build’ agenda is to align with its ‘levelling up’ promise, we need to see regionally driven infrastructure linked to housing delivery to kick-start both national and local growth.”

Many measures already possible

Bernadette Hillman, partner in the planning team at London-based law firm, Sharpe Pritchard, commented: “Much of what the government proposes is possible under the current system and we should be building on the existing regime. Permission in principle already exists and there really is no need for major reform: just some technical adjustments and properly resourced local planning departments.

“We’ve seen permissions for millions of homes in the last 10 years not being implemented: we need delivery.

“There’s so much we don’t know yet – the devil will be in the detail, of course, and it will be an interesting few days ahead.”

Can’t be limited to housing

Mike Derbyshire, head of planning at property consultancy Bidwells, one of the key protagonists in the property industry’s Radical Regeneration Manifesto campaign, is on board with reforms.

“Our regeneration think tank has been calling for exactly this to happen – a radical overhaul of an antiquated system that has not evolved alongside modern real estate, communities and social systems; a fairer planning system that is inclusive and that prioritises environmentally friendly practices, and designated areas where planning can be fast-tracked.

“We are pleased to see the government taking action to ensure that, on paper, the right sort of regeneration and development happens. We now need to see how this works in practice; for example, it cannot be limited to housing as mixed-use development is just as important to the success of modern communities and well-designed cultural neighbourhoods are crucial to a more positive and united society. But it is a step in the right direction and one which we will watch unfold with great interest and will to succeed.”

Cannot compromise on quality

Mark Crane, the District Councils Network’s lead member for stronger economies, said:

“Getting the country building desperately needed homes again will be a vital part of the national recovery from coronavirus, and district councils stand shovel-ready to deliver.

“But we cannot compromise on the quality of new homes and places and sideline public consultation, which we fear will be the consequence of the government’s planning reforms.

“District councils and their local communities continue to grant nine in 10 planning permissions, while tens of thousands of homes with planning permission remain unbuilt – the housing delivery system is broken, not the planning system.

“To tackle the housing crisis, councils need to be given the funding to invest in infrastructure and the powers to build homes that are green, high quality, and affordable.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “The prime minister has said we need to ‘build, build, build’ our way to recovery and a flexible and responsive planning system is essential to deliver this aim. Local small builders have an important role to play in delivering the high-quality homes the country needs but 42 per cent of small builders have difficulty engaging with the planning system. New measures that make the planning system quicker and more affordable are welcome but it is vital that high standards in design and build are not compromised as a result, and that any overhaul doesn’t in fact add further delays.”

3 August 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

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.

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

Copied from the Local Government Chronicle online 

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

Copied from Local Government  Chronicle online

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

As well as firing blanks this time, he’s also got his eyes shut!

 

Independent election candidate, had his eyes closed when he came up with this.

Independent election candidate, had his eyes closed when he came up with this.

Below is the text of a letter I have sent to The Lincs Freepress / Spalding Guardian, in response to an extraordinary letter sent by one of my independent opponents.  You can take a look at what he’s got to say for himself here:  http://www.spaldingtoday.co.uk/news/latest-news/politics-a-community-is-built-by-giving-people-choices-1-6696891

I have to say, I couldn’t buy this sort of publicity, well I could, but the price would be a bit steep and probably break the rules on election expenses!   As mentioned in my previous post about the independents election leaflets, this candidate has a personal axe to grind with me on this issue.

Looking at the impressive list of things he’s inserted himself into within the district, he clearly feels robbed of the opportunity to add management of the Wygate Park community centre to it.  Far be it from me to suggest that he was angling for the job of centre manager, given his current employment status, but there must be more to his anger, than a simple difference of opinion with me.

 

Choice – exactly what’s on the table

In response to the letter about the community survey currently underway in Wygate Park, Spalding.  Clearly, the writer has allowed emotion to cloud his ‘view’ and has failed to read the covering flyer, or even the survey form itself.

Both of these documents refer to ‘a community facility’ not a building, although that is indeed an option.  The documents were drafted and approved by Community Lincs and South Holland District Council respectively, not by me.  As a courtesy, I was supplied with a draft copy of these documents, but I had no involvement in their drafting.  I also supplied maps of the area and lists of roads within a 10 minute walk time of the potential site for any facility.  On behalf of the highly professional officers from both organisations, I believe the writer owes them a public apology, for questioning their integrity, impartiality and professionalism.

Despite his previous profession, the writer continues to ignore the legal framework that made both the land and the financial contribution available in the first place.  A legal agreement, a section 106, was signed between South Holland DC and Allison Homes, the original developer.  Allison Homes agreed to build a community centre, on part of the public open space, adjacent to what is now the Wygate Academy School – nothing else. A new legal agreement would be needed to use the actual money for anything else; something that Kier, the new developer, can choose not to do.

The steering group was formed in the hope that the community would, either agree to seeing the proposed building managed by South Holland Community Church, for and on behalf of the community, or decide to form their own community group, to take on the task.

For various reasons, the first option is now off of the table, in part at least, because of the written hostility of the letter writer in emails he circulated.  I also believe that this aggression played a significant role in reducing the group’s membership.

The second option is still available to anybody, including the writer, wishing to take up the challenge.  The results of the community survey will become valuable evidence for any group when bidding for the additional grant funding, essential to making the project a success.

Finally, if you live in Wygate Park and are one of the 1435 households to receive a survey, please take the time to read it carefully and make up your own mind as to whether, or not a building is the only choice available.

Once you’ve seen for yourself that it isn’t – so there’s no need to spoil your ballot paper on the 7th May  – please do complete the survey and leave it outside your front door for collection on 9th May.  There are also details about how to complete the survey online.

Flyer delivered to 1435 properties by Community Lincs.

Flyer delivered to 1435 properties by Community Lincs.

Only complaining via the letters page, achieves very little

Its always a bit disappointing when the first time you find out that somebody has got a problem, is when it appears in the letters page of the local newspaper.  It’s doubly disappointing when the person making the complaint is known to you, because you have had dealings with them in the past and have actually been successful in resolving an issue for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not seeking to be the best thing since sliced bread – never really understood what that means – and be the go to guy for everything and everyone, but I’m just a bit nonplussed as they say, that this gentleman didn’t at least given me a heads up on the issue, at the same time as writing to the newspaper.  All that said, I have actually been looking into the issue of drivers allegedly ignoring the pedestrian crossing on Wygate Park, over the last couple of months, following a comment made to me by a resident sometime ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe comment was along the same lines as the letter in the press and although I have not witnessed any occurrences myself, it reminded me of my own concerns about this crossing.  Until the recent conversation, I thought it was just me and that I was somehow becoming less aware of such things and therefore needed to be on my guard when driving.  This is often a criticism of drivers of a certain age, so I had to consider it as a possible reason for my concerns, regarding this pedestrian crossing.  However, having heard these concerns from somebody of lesser years, I thought I’d do some further research.

For sometime now, I felt the crossing was somehow less obvious as you approach it in the car, than similar crossing in other locations – but only during the hours of daylight.  At night the opposite is true and I would defy anybody other than a blind person, somebody sleep driving, or somebody completely off their head on drink or drugs, not to see this crossing clearly.  Not only is it floodlit, it also has illuminated black and white posts, that work brilliantly in combo with the flashing yellow beacons that top them.

Unfortunately, during the hours of daylight, the beacons seem barely adequate and along with other surrounding issues, I wonder if this might be the cause of the alleged pedestrian near misses?  Does the background of nearby trees and branches make the beacons less visible than normal?  Is it the light units on top that leads a driver to see these as street lights, rather than the crossing illumination and warning beacons they actually are?  Could it the fact that the crossing actually sits on one of the traffic calming platforms, making the viewing angle from a driver’s perspective, shallower and the black and white crossing less obvious?

I’ve been in touch with the county highways department, asking all of these questions and they are of the opinion that there’s no problem with either the crossing, or its visibility.  As always, they are forced to look at getting the biggest bang for their ever decreasing buck, so they use the accident and incident figures for a given location, as a way of determining its priority.  In the case of this crossing, nobody has been run over yet and, thankfully, nobody has been killed, so it doesn’t even figure on the highways dept’s radar, when it comes to spending money on improvements.

I have made enquiries with a company that supplies beacons that have a ring of flashing LEDs around them, having seen how effective they are in other areas – Peterborough City seems to fit these as standard.  Unfortunately the cost, over £3000 per beacon (higher than standard, because of the integral flood light unit on top) makes funding any improvement from my ward budget almost impossible.  Just to make life a bit more difficult, county highways would still not sanction any changes, unless they received what’s called a commuted sum of £2,700, to cover the increased cost of future maintenance, or replacement due to accident damage.  Understandable, but nonetheless frustrating.

I really do hope that neither the letter writer nor myself, are proven right in our concerns and that the crossing continues to offer genuine safe passage to pedestrians crossing this increasingly busy road.

As forecast, first public comment was a negative

Spalding Common

Spalding Common

I had a bet with the blokes putting up the first one, about what the tone of the first public comment would be, regarding the new Welcome to Spalding signs. Being a fully paid up member of the cynical B’s club, I bet on it being critical, negative and tinged with an element of spite – and I was right! Pay up guys.
I suppose we should be thankful that at least somebody has not only noticed them, but has taken the time to put pen to paper, given the lack of interest displayed by many when it comes to local issues – apart from planning applications that is.
The writer of today’s letter in the Spalding Guardian, is a regular contributor to the page.  He obviously missed the postage stamp sized story on these signs, the first time around, or I would have expected to see his critical appraisal published back then.
No, the signs are not made of Perspex (a trade name for acrylic) Mr Sadd, they are aluminium, with the image printed on – durable vinyl material, designed for this use.
The signs are as temporary as you want them to be Rodney. If you can find the several thousands of pounds, probably as much as £10,000 would be my guess, to commission, design, manufacture and install something similar to the wooden signs that Spalding once had, I’m sure we would all be very pleased to see these signs replaced.
My guess is, that there isn’t anybody out there already writing the cheque for this work and that these signs will remain in place for at least as long as the embarrassing ‘lollipops’ that they replaced – come on prove me wrong for once, I dare you. That’s not an invitation to go and nick them by the way.

Local government has another 10% to find – for starters

I’ve borrowed this from the article published in today’s Sunday Telegraph – thank you ST. The further 10% cut in funding to local government, has been on the cards almost since the last cuts were announced, so that’s not the interesting bit.

What is interesting, is the Telegraph’s assessment that this is a defeat, I assume for the DCLG and Eric Pickles, as that couldn’t be further from the truth, given Mr Pickles constant eagerness to please his bosses. Let’s not forget, he was the first minister to settle, if that’s the right word for it. It’s more likely that Pickles was actually waiting outside the front door of the Treasury on the first day of this spending cuts round. He was probably like one of those over excited shoppers on the first day of the January sales, but in reverse. Instead of grabbing the bargains, as he burst through the doors, he leapt in, gleefully spreading local government grant funding around like confetti.

Dept of Communities and Local Government – Budget £25.92bn – Minister Eric Pickles

Battlegrounds Local authority budgets will bear the brunt of savings. The Local Government Association warns that children’s centres, museums, roads and bus fares will suffer cuts in the range of 10 per cent to the money local authorities get from Whitehall. Louise Casey, head of the Troubled Families Unit, is said to be behind moves to “take over” billions of pounds of spending from other departments.

Outcome – No deal yet. – Verdict Defeat

Extend councillor recruitment drive, MPs urge

Here’s an article that should get some of my regular readers talking, groaning or seething, depending on their view of elected members.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
10 January, 2013 | By Kaye Wiggins

MPs have called for the LGA’s ‘Be a councillor’ campaign to be extended, warning that too many elected representatives did not reflect their local communities.

The cross-party Communities and Local Government select committee praised the LGA’s campaign in a report about the role of councillors, published on Thursday. The campaign aims to encourage people from a wide range of backgrounds to stand as councillors, in time for the May 2013 local elections.

‘Political row over allowances claim’, see bottom of page

“The Local Government Association deserves credit for its work on the Be a Councillor programme, which is playing an important role in encouraging a wider group of people to stand at local elections”, the report said.

“We would encourage the LGA to expand the programme, under its established branding, to enable it to play a wider role in the promotion of local democracy.”

MPs said it was a “matter of concern” that “the composition of many councils does not reflect that of the communities they serve.”

“It is important to increase the proportion of women, younger people and black and minority ethnic people serving on local authorities”, they said in the report.

The MPs also criticised communities secretary Eric Pickles for his use of terms such as “guided localism” and “muscular localism”, accusing the Department for Communities & Local Government of “an inability to let go of the reins” that was “frustrating and confusing” for councillors.

“We once again urge the government to rein in its interventionist instincts”, it said.

The report also said:

The levels of councillors’ allowances “can be a deterrent to people standing for election”. Councils should be allowed to hand decisions about councillors’ allowances to independent local bodies
Councils should consider providing councillors with officer support to help them to manage their casework
The government should incentivise employers to support employees who were councillors
Councillors should not be blocked from influencing local services that were delivered by external providers
Councils should be allowed to compensate councillors for loss of earnings as part of their allowance
Most councillors were hard-working and committed – but some “do little work and, because theyrepresent safe seats, have little incentive to do more.” Councils should set up measures to deal with councilor under-performance
To read the report, click here

Political row over allowances claim
The committee’s report sparked a political row, after Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps and local government minister Brandon Lewis branded its warning that low allowances could deter would-be councillors and call for councillors to be allowed to be compensated for any loss of earnings that they suffer as a “cynical and sleazy move”. Claiming the cross-party committee’s report had come from “Labour politicians” and pointing to Labour Party rules under which a share of its councillors’ allowances are transferred to the party’s own funds, Mr Shapps said Labour was trying to increase the party’s budget. “Local taxpayers will be shocked to learn that the Labour Party will be quids in from Labour demands for more taxpayers’ money on councillor allowances”, he said.

Mr Lewis added: “Labour are completely out of touch with local taxpayers by calling for higher councillor allowances and defending pensions for councillors.”

However, a spokeswoman for the committee pointed out that the report’s findings and recommendations had been approved by politicians of all parties. Labour MP Clive Betts, chair of the committee, said he was “saddened by the reaction of Brandon Lewis and Grant Shapps who have stoked this negativity and undermined a serious concern of councillors from their own party”.

“Allowances remain low and act as a deterrent for many considering whether to stand for election,” he added. “This is particularly an issue for employed people and those with young families, who lose income when taking time out from work for their councillor duties. The committee therefore called for councils to have the option to have decisions about allowances to be taken out of councillors’ hands and transferred to independent local bodies.

“We also found that people are put off by shallow political point scoring, which makes the response of Mr Lewis and Mr Shapps all the more disappointing.”

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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”.