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.

True scale of settlement cuts emerges

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
20 December, 2012 | By Dan Drillsma-Milgrom

Councils face much higher funding cuts than those announced by communities secretary Eric Pickles, fresh analysis of the local government settlement has revealed.

An LGA briefing on the settlement said council funding would be cut by almost 4% next year and 9% the year after.

The cuts in core government funding for councils stands in contrast to communities secretary Eric Pickles’ claims that local authorities’ ‘spending power’ would reduce by only 1.7% next year.

LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) said the figures showed that local government continued “to bear the brunt of public spending cuts in the spending review period”.

The LGA’s calculations showed that councils’ start-up funding allocation in the new retained business rate funding system would decrease on a like-for-like basis of 3.9% in 2013-14. The following year, while councils’ local share of retained business rates is projected to grow by 3.1%, the revenue support grant which still makes up the bulk of councils’ funding is forecast to fall by 17%. The net effect is for a projected 8.6% decrease in funding.

Sir Merrick claimed that local government’s cuts in the spending review period would now exceed 33%, in comparison to the 28% originally announced.

The briefing also confirmed a number of details from the settlement announcement:

Of the £661m being paid to councils through the New Homes Bonus, £411m would be top-sliced from councils’ formula funding in 2013-14.
The amount held back to fund the safety net has been reduced from £245m to £25m
Twenty areas have been designated as pools for the purposes of top-ups, tariffs and safety net payments. These are: Berkshire; Greater Birmingham & Solihull; Buckinghamshire; Coventry & Warwickshire; Cambridgeshire; Devon; Gloucestershire; Leeds City Region; Leicester & Leicestershire; Lincolnshire; Greater Manchester; Norfolk CC and Broadland; Northamptonshire; Nottinghamshire; Oxfordshire; Somerset; Staffordshire & Stoke-on-Trent; Suffolk; Surrey; Worcestershire

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READERS’ COMMENTS (2)

Graham669 | 20-Dec-2012 2:40 pm
Pickled is doing his usual act of stupidity, the secondary effects of the crazy cuts in LA funding will last far longer than he is in office.
This charlatan will unfortunately leave a legacy of social damage that will take decades to heal.

patrick newman | 20-Dec-2012 4:04 pm
As predicted we only find out the truth well after Pickles has spoken but I doubt if cares too much about that. A further round of redundancies is inevitable thus putting more pressure on state finances through increased benefits and reduced tax yield. There must be many councillors who feel unhappy about being Pickles’ neighbourhood axemen.

Chief Planner could be Chief Politician

I went to East Lindsey District Council near Louth last Friday, to hear Steve Quartermain, the chief planner at DCLG, field questions from elected members about the revised planning system.

As an aside, having spent 38 years in the RAF it still feels wrong to be able to drive on to an RAF station, even a disused one, without being challenged. For those who don’t know, ELDC is based on the old RAF base at Manby and it was easy to spot the guardroom, SHQ, station workshops, the barrack blocks and of course, the sacred parade square, now desecrated with parked cars. I’m pretty sure the vinyl on the floor of the bogs (toilets to you civvies) was the original stuff from RAF days!

Steve Quartermain was on very good form as always and was able to deflect, defend, duck and generally avoid any criticism of his masters in Whitehall. As an example, given David Cameron’s recent conference criticism of the planning system (again), I asked Steve if the government actually accepted that there are over 400,000 unimplemented planning permissions across England and that if they did accept this figure, then why did his political masters keep blaming the planning system for the lack of growth?

His answer was clearly well practiced and before 2007 it would have actually been an accurate one. According to Steve, 400,000 dwellings is what is needed to satisfy about two years of new housing delivery, so councils need to continue to replenish the stock of planning permissions to meet this need year on year. That would be a good answer if we weren’t recession and if our house building industry wasn’t only managing to build just over 100,000 houses a year.

On this current performance, the house building industry is likely to take at least 3, or even 4 years, to use the 400,000+ outstanding planning permissions. Steve Quartermain of course knows this better than anybody. However, being the politically astute planning professional that he is, he threw back the historical building rate figures from when times were good, bolstered by the long term deficit figure of 3 million houses, that no government has ever managed to put a dent in and swiftly moved on to the next question.

I will however give the Chief Planner his due for being consistent on one message to the assembled members – get on with producing your Local Plan. Many of those at the meeting still didn’t seem to get the other message Steve has been giving out since the coalition government rewrote the planning rules. It’s your plan, if you don’t want something to happen, get the evidence and use that to produce your LOCAL planning policies. Conversely, if you do want something to happen, do the same thing for that goal. Too many of the members at the meeting kept basing their questions on wanting the government to produce national policies that either allowed, or prevented something. One even asked about guidance on materials to be used!

These members still don’t seem to understand that this isn’t the way it works anymore and that, apart from where the central government still wishes to impose its wishes on the nation as a whole, the rest of it is up to them.

Immigration becoming yet another elephant in the room

Unashamedly lifted from the Conservative Home website, as I could not have put it any better myself.

Immigration comment
“The Coalition has declared its intention to get net immigration down from last year’s level of nearly 250,000 to the tens of thousands. But even that will not be good enough. In order to avoid the population reaching that 70 million, we have to get immigration down to 40,000 a year or less.” – Nicholas Soames and Frank Field in The Telegraph
“To put the matter brutally, neither David Cameron nor Theresa May has to live in Southall, Bradford or Tower Hamlets. They do not experience at first-hand the bitterness of traditional English people, who see their communities overtaken, their culture pushed aside, by people who force a path into Britain without the smallest desire, or even willingness, to embrace our ways or share our values.” – Max Hastings in the Daily Mail
“Ministers in the Home Office, from the Home Secretary downwards, should be under absolutely no illusion that failing to achieve the modest target set for them well before the next election will have a consequence: the public outcry they have faced these past few days will be as nothing to the wrath that unfolds.” – Express leader

Another piece of directed localism

More directed localism from government today, with George Osborne announcing a freeze on council tax. Last time I looked, it was individual councils, via it’s elected members, that decided whether or not their council tax should rise, fall or remain the same, not the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Of course central government has the power to cap councils that it feels are planning to levy an excessive increase in their council tax rate. However, it now seems that the Chancellor has decided that he knows exactly what every council in the country needs to keep providing services to it’s local taxpayers, even before those councils have started their budget setting deliberations for the next civic year.

Of course, any relief in the ever increasing rise in household bills is to be welcomed and any council that decided to increase it’s council tax levels after the Chancellor’s announcement, would be either very confident of it’s political support amongst it’s taxpayers, very foolish, or desperate. However, that’s not the point. This government has banged on and on about getting rid of ‘big government’ and giving power back to local people. Yet, in an opportunistic piece of political posturing at the party conference, George Osborne is now going to tell local councils that it is not their role to make this decision on behalf of their local taxpayers. So much for localism.

Why can’t central trust local on NPPF goals?

Is it possible that government will ever trust local government, or are we to be condemned to a constant tirade of abuse from Eric Pickles, combined with the sham politics that is called Localism?

The NPPF is a major worry to many organisations concerned about caring for the green areas of this country (and not just the Green Belt I hope). Yet, despite all the detailed concerned being put forward by the experts, I think there are a few reasonable changes that could be made to overcome the vast majority of the public’s concerns at least.

The first of these would be to delete the statement that, where a local plan is silent, indeterminate or out of date, planning permission should be given. This requirement puts too much pressure on councils and will either see local plans being rushed through, or great resent being generated in the communities the government claims to want to empower, when development is imposed on them.

The second thing government should do, is delay the implementation of the NPPF, in order to give councils a sensible time period to deliver their local plans.

Third, government should make it a requirement for councils to produce an evidence based assessment of their local housing need. This in itself would not be any easy exercise, as a significant amount of local information and forecasting would be needed to achieve the required evidence base. However, once done, as well as placing a requirement on a council to deliver that housing, it would put that council in control and not the developers.

Of course such changes would suggest that government was willing to trust local government to deliver and with people like Eric Pickles in the government it’s difficult to see that happening.

Gold plating – what we do best!

Yet another story about EU legislation having a negative impact on the UK economy. This time it’s agency staff receiving the same employment rights as permanent employees. The legislation was apparently enthusiastically grasped to their bosom by the LibDems soon after they were invited into Government – thanks for dropping us in it yet again Mr Vince Cable.

Following the standard script, ministers claimed, ‘we had no choice because…….this time the excuse being, ‘the unions put pressure on us’. Since when has any government done anything they didn’t want to do because of a union (unless it was Labour of course)?

Read on and you get to the real reason why the UK has yet again been stitched up by it’s own government. According to the Institute of Directors, the Government has once again ‘gold-plated’ a piece of EU legislation and made it’s impact far worse than it needed to be. Either these people just love writing new regulations, or they see it as another opportunity to create more jobs for the boys, with new bunch of Whitehall bureaucrats required to police the new rules.