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.”

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.”

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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Crisis leads to council tax referendum call

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30 May, 2013 | By Mark Smulian

Herefordshire Council could become the first to hold a council tax increase referendum after an emergency meeting over a budget crisis.

This followed a review by incoming chief executive Alastair Neill, which found the budget set only in February contained errors and weaknesses.

It must now save an extra £8.4m this year and make 290 job cuts, against some 120 originally intended.

The council has saved some £21.1m over the last two years, and must save a further £32.2m over this year and the next two.

Mr Neill’s review found areas in the February budget “where the plans were not sufficiently resilient and [where] additional savings need to be made to ensure that the council delivers its plan within its budget”.

This included £1m of procurement savings which had “slipped and needed to be tackled” and £3.8m of learning disabilities grant which had in effect been counted twice.

Tony Johnson (Con), the council’s new leader, said: “We are facing a very challenging time over the next few years and as such we need to consider alternative approaches to delivering some of our services.

“Inevitably, non-mandatory services must bear the brunt of the cuts and although this will unfortunately involve job losses, it does not automatically mean the loss of services.”

The extraordinary council meeting agreed that the cabinet would consider holding a referendum to increase the 2014-15 council tax above whatever cap level is imposed.

Some 25% of Herefordshire’s income comes from council tax, which it had frozen from 2011-13. It increased it this year by 1.9%, equivalent to £1.5m.

Cllr Johnson said: “We must consider the possibility of raising council tax responsibly and proportionately across the county, as we begin to consider next year’s budget.”

Before doing so, he wanted to gauge whether residents “would be prepared to vote in favour of raising taxes to protect the county’s vital services”.

The coalition dropped Labour’s council tax cap, but substituted a system where tax could be raised above a nationally defined level only following a local referendum.

No council has yet held such a referendum, fearing both the cost and the likely outcome. In Herefordshire’s case a referendum would cost £100,000 to conduct.

In a joint statement with Unison, Herefordshire said it had agreed to reduce from three to two the number of days of unpaid leave to be taken during the Christmas period and to increase redundancy terms from the statutory minimum to 1.5 times that level.

Unison would prefer to keep in-house provision but will engage “fully in consideration of alternative business models that may be required in areas of service, where the council has to reduce or withdraw funding”.

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.

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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.

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