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

LGA to go on the offensive – pity that Pickles is off!

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The LGA’s chair elect outlines his priorities for the association
David Sparks: End central government’s abuse of power
4 June, 2014 | By David Sparks

It will be with a great sense of responsibility that I take on the chairmanship of the LGA next month. Following four years of councils taking on the biggest cuts in living memory, we have just under a year to go until the general election. What happens in the following 12 months will be crucial to the future of local government, to the services we provide and to the ambitions we have for improving people’s lives.

I believe the LGA has a responsibility to every council to lead the debate, set the agenda and ensure that a clear and compelling case for devolution makes its way on to the pages of every major party’s manifesto. Last year’s Rewiring Public Services began a debate about how to tackle the funding gap. We now need to set out clear actions the next government must take in the form of a convincing offer that is too good to be refused.

Across the country there is a dire need for more new homes. There is a huge challenge to meet in ensuring there are enough places at good schools. Unemployment among young people remains stubbornly high. We in local government know that the answers to these key challenges can be found in a radical devolution of responsibilities and power to local areas.

By the end of this year, both Wales and Scotland – whatever the outcome of the referendum north of the border – will be on the road to receiving greater freedom from Whitehall. The devolution question for the rest of the UK must be answered. English local areas cannot be left behind with their hands tied.

The Council of Europe recently concluded that the ability of local authorities in England to discharge their responsibilities was often highly restricted by central government.

For too long governments on all sides of the political divide have been guilty of an abuse of power
I would go a step further. For too long now governments on all sides of the political divide have been guilty of an abuse of power. National politicians become gripped by the meddlesome urge to interfere in the local matters people elect local politicians to deal with. Westminster should have no business dictating to councils how often they can write to their residents, how to run waste collection services or how we raise and spend money to meet the needs of the people we serve.

As chair of the LGA I will be a staunch advocate for councils and the case for devolution. I will also be a determined champion for local government employees.

This army of unsung heroes have performed brilliantly through incredibly tough times. Faced with the biggest cuts in a generation, they have worked so hard at protecting vital services that people’s satisfaction with their councils has been steadily increasing. We as a sector need to recognise that.

Attacks from central government in the pages of the tabloid press take their toll on morale. We need to work harder to tell the public about the fantastic job the local government workforce is doing. We need to instigate a renaissance of careers in local government being valued and respected vocations that people are proud to do and the public truly appreciate.

One theme underpins all of this. The current model of governing the country is broken, expensive and no longer fit for the 21st century.

The success of my chairmanship of the LGA will be judged on the strength of the case we make to the public, this government, and whoever makes up the next one, that a radical devolution of power and responsibility to local areas is the only sensible answer to the big questions facing Britain today.

David Sparks (Lab), chair elect, LGA

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BREAKING: Council tax benefit cuts to double

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
10 January, 2013 | By Ruth Keeling

Cuts to localised council tax benefit are set to almost double and will reach 18% by 2014-15, it has emerged.

Council leaders learned of a further 8.5% cut to council tax support – on top of 10% already announced – during a meeting with ministers held yesterday.

Sharon Taylor (Lab), leader of Stevenage BC and chair of the LGA’s finance panel said the 8.5% cut in 2014-15, equivalent to £280m, was revealed during a meeting held on Wednesday with ministers and officials from the Department of Communities & Local Government.

“That is not what we were expecting,” she said. The LGA has received verbal confirmation of the surprise cut since the meeting and intends to lobby against the move, she said, which comes on top of a 10% cut due to be applied in 2013-14.

Cllr Taylor said it had been “made clear” in the meeting that the protection of pensioners from council tax benefit cuts would continue. This would mean cuts of more than 18% for other groups of claimants.

The revelation has led to fears that council tax benefit funding will be phased out following its localisation from central to local government, due to take place in April.

Mehboob Khan (Lab), leader of Kirklees MBC, said: “What’s really concerning is the…implications for council tax allowance in the future.” He told the LGA executive, meeting on Thursday, that sources close to the Treasury had suggested council tax benefit “would not be ring fenced” and was “likely to be reduced each year”.

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Don’t get misled by the facts

There’s a piece in the latest Local Government Association (LGA) First magazine, that could easily prove extremely misleading to elected members, given that it suggests that, despite all the budget cuts and threats to services, councils’ are doing okay.

The article is actually extracted from something written Neil Wholey, Head of Research and Customer Insight at Westminster City Council – whatever that is, the job, not the council. Whilst the piece may not be inaccurate in any way, the author obviously knows his stuff and the facts are the facts, it’s certainly likely to offer a misleading picture to those who, when reading it, don’t bother to separate out the elements that make up a council.

As a LGA publication, it’s difficult not to see the magazine as primarily a vehicle for communicating with elected members, as opposed to the professionals and this where the misleading bit begins.  The article called, Residents’ Views, tells the reader that, despite all the hardships being visited on taxpayers by government, local government’s reputation is doing surprisingly well.

I’ve no reason to doubt what the author is saying when it comes to public opinion, especially if the questions were asked in a way that avoids any reference to the politics of the council.  The problem comes when an elected member reads this and either misses, or completely ignores, the basis on which the questions were asked.  The public are expressing a view of their experience of the council, not the councillors.

I wonder what the answer would have been if, instead of asking, ‘overall do you think the council is providing good services in your area?’ they had asked, ‘how well do you think the (insert political group name as appropriate) are running your local council?’.  By inserting politics into the question, you immediately invite a biased response, based on the politics of the person being asked the question. Taken a step further, even if the council is performing well, the fact that it is controlled by one, or other of the political parties, will be far more influential when it comes to an election, than any public satisfaction survey, however rosy a picture it paints.

 

My point is, that any politician reading this and taking it at face value, could be in danger of deluding themselves in to thinking that taxpayer satisfaction with ‘the council’, is the same as satisfaction with ‘the councillors’.

Cut until only the tip of the iceberg remains – surprise! it sinks

Not sure if the first paragraph of this article is ambiguous by accident or design – I can’t figure out who, or what the ‘they’ is. I hope it means the ministers who need the reality check, because I can assure you that councils don’t need any help realising how desperate things are set to become.

Acknowledgement to Ruth Keeling of Local Government Chronicle

Ministers have been warned that popular council services could be lost forever unless they take a “realistic review” of what local government does and how it is funded.

Publishing the results of the first serious attempt to model the funding outlook for councils over the next spending review period, the LGA issued a bleak forecast of a growing multi-billion pound shortfall between the demand for services over the next decade and the resources available to fund them.

The report accepts that cuts in the next spending review could be equal to the 28% reduction in funding seen in this spending period as the government continues to tackle the budget deficit.

Using “optimistic” assumptions of councils’ other income streams as well as demand for services, the association says the funding shortfall is set to reach £16.5bn a year by 2019-20.

That annual funding gap represents a 29% shortfall across all services, but is calculated to rise to 66% if social care and waste collection are fully funded.

Similar protection for capital financing and concessionary travel fares would result in a 90% funding shortfall for other services.

Polling conducted by YouGov this month suggested two such services – libraries and leisure facilities – were the most popular with the public, with 39% and 27% of adults respectively claiming to have recently used them, compared with 11% who said elderly care services.

LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) said: “By the end of the decade, councils may be forced to wind down some of the most popular services unless urgent action is taken to address the crisis in adult social care funding.”

At the heart of the funding crisis is the rising cost of such care, which the LGA predicts will equal almost half of all spending by the end of the decade. It warned that its estimates were “extremely conservative”, with some councils “modelling social care demand growing at twice the rate of our assumptions”.

The document, released at the LGA conference on Tuesday, represents the organisation’s opening gambit as the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government begin to plan for the next spending review period.

It will also raise images of the BBC documentary, The Street That Cut Everything, where residents attempted to do without council services entirely.

As well as calling for reform for social care funding and the repealing of some of the 1,300 statutory duties to which councils are subject, the LGA has called for the joint working being tested in the Community budget pilots and the troubled families programme to be implemented more widely.

Solace’s policy and communications director Graeme McDonald said the report painted a “bleak picture” and warned the squeeze on highways, planning and economic development would make economic growth even more difficult.

He warned that the funding gap would open up more quickly in different areas of the country. “There is a diversity of crisis, but crisis it is,” he said.

Stephen Hughes, chief executive of Birmingham City Council, said ministers had to “express a view on what is more or less important”. He added: “We have got to have a proper conversation about priorities.”

The LGA report made it clear that, with central services accounting for just £3bn a year, the challenge could not be met simply through efficiency savings.

However, local government minister Bob Neill continued to call for savings. “Councils must make savings by sharing back offices, getting more for less from the £60bn a year procurement budget, using their £10bn of reserves, tackling the £2bn of local fraud, or reducing in-house management costs,” he said.

LGA assumptions
Council tax frozen until 2014-15 and then growing by 2% per year, although the LGA notes this “may be optimistic” and council tax could rise by less

Business rate income to grow at 3.5%, in line with Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts

Central share of Business Rates to be returned to local government in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and grants to be allocated in line with total funding set in 2010 spending review

Total funding beyond 2014-15 to be reduced by £17.6bn by 2020, “broadly similar” to reductions in 2010 spending review

Reserves to be drawn down through to 2013-14 but then rebuilt in case of volatility in business rate income

Efficiency savings of 2% per year tapering to 1% per year by end of period