Labour making a grab for power from the bottom?

A letter in today’s edition of the Local Government First magazine, by a Cllr Cookson (Labour), advises all readers to prepare for Labour’s plans to impose proportional representation on to local government, once they are in power.
I believe that all non-Labour councillors should take this advice, but not for the reasons promoted in the Labour Party document.
An online search reveals that the Electoral Reform Society (not to be confused with the Electoral Commission) has decided to promote Labour’s viewpoint, by publicising the document on its website, suggesting that it might almost be viewed as more about the democratic process than actual politics.  Despite being in existence for over 100 years, the ERS has made little headway in their ambitions for proportional representation.  As such, it should come as no surprise to see them promote a political document supporting its introduction, all be it at the local government level initially.
It’s not actually my goal to argue for, or against the issue as such, but rather to advise all non-Labour councillors to take a look at this document, so that they can be on their guard should councillor Cookson’s Party ever return to power. Far from being a springboard to greater and more even local democratic representation for the electorate, it would appear that the main purpose for seeking any change, is to increase the numbers of Labour Party foot soldiers embedded in local government.
The document unashamedly states, ‘…..the effects of introducing a more proportional system for local elections are more likely to unite the party…….’. Admittedly, in its forward, the document does suggest that all parties (hence the lowercase reference to ‘the party’ I assume) could benefit in some way from such a change, but it is difficult not to see a far less magnanimous reasoning behind this proposal.
On the face of it, this looks like it could be a win, win situation for us all, especially the electorate.  However, my question is a simple one, if it’s that good and the document works hard to suggest that it is, why use local government as your guinea pigs?  Put another way, why not do unto yourselves first, as you would do to others? I also have a concern about the norm for local government becoming ‘no overall control’, if this were to happen.  So be warned fellow non-Labour councillors; they appear to have a cunning plan.

Planning and highways spending slashed

Copied from Local Government Chronicle on line
29 August, 2013 | By Ruth Keeling

Planning and highways have seen the largest reductions in spending, according to the latest local government financial data published on Thursday.

Expenditure on planning services fell by 13.2% between 2011-12 and 2012-13 while spending on highways and transport services fell by 9.5% over the same period.

The cut in spending on services linked to growth, a number one priority for the government, contrasts with much smaller cuts in social care spending and increases in spending on housing benefit costs.

The LGA has previously warned that the combination of growing demand for social care services and significant funding cuts would mean spending in other areas, such as planning and highways, would be squeezed harder and harder.

Social care spending fell by just 0.2%. However that masked a different story for children’s social care, where spending increased by 2.8%, and adult social care, where spending fell by 1.4%.

Other areas of increased spending were housing benefit costs, which increased by almost 5%.

Although education spending fell by 7.7%, government statisticians warned that comparisons should not be made over the two years because the reduction was caused by academies leaving local authority control.

While total revenue expenditure fell by 5% between 2011-12 and 2012-13, the reduction was just 0.2% once changes to education responsibilities and funding were removed from the comparison.

The figures also show that councils increased their reserve levels by £1.7bn, not including a £0.9bn addition to the Greater London Authority’s reserves.

However, there were a quarter of councils which did not add to reserves and ended the year with less in the bank.

Parking ticket protest in a vulture costume

Only in Britain, or arguably in England more so, could a citizen achieve such unintended(?) irony whilst protesting against the state. Priceless.

A motorist given a parking ticket returned days later dressed in a vulture costume to protest.
Roger Wallis, 58, bought a mask on the internet and made the rest of his outfit.
He then walked around the car park, in Havant, Hants, for five hours. He said: “I put a lot of effort into making the costume because it is important to look the part. There is no point going down there looking like a prat.”

Early figures reveal cuts of 16% for some councils

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
8 August, 2013 | By Ruth Keeling

Councils forced to revamp their savings plans after early sight of their individual funding allocations revealed cuts as high as 16% in 2015-16.

The indicative allocation figures, released last month by the Department for Communities & Local Government, have caused alarm within local government which had expected cuts of around 10%.

Councils suffering the deepest cuts have warned they could now be pushed towards a ‘doom’ scenario where services would have to be closed and vital growth plans ditched.

The extent of the cuts is the result of a series of ‘top slices’ taken from councils’ revenue support grant to fund central government programmes, such as the ‘Dilnot new burdens’ budget announced by the chancellor last month.

The hardest hit councils have been told their funding settlement assessment could fall by 16% in 2015-16. Only two authorities, Wokingham BC and Surrey CC, face cuts of less than 10%.

North Kesteven is among 69 councils facing a 16% cut. Deputy chief executive Alan Thomas said the authority might have to rethink its growth priorities. Its previous £1.75m saving plan will now have to be increased to £2.25m, equivalent to 15% of its £11.5m a year net budget.

Mr Thomas said the Conservative-run council might also review its existing policy of reserving New Homes Bonus payments for infrastructure spending. “I think we are going to have to take a different view of that now and use quite a bit of that New Homes Bonus to support core spending, otherwise we won’t be able to balance the books,” he said.

The authority was already reeling from the “absolutely devastating” government announcement that up to 35% of New Homes Bonus income will be handed to local enterprise partnerships from 2015-16, he added.

Districts and inner London boroughs were the hardest hit group of councils in 2015-16, facing 15% cuts on average. Outer London boroughs, metropolitan districts and unitaries face reductions of 14%; counties will see an average reduction of 13%.

David Huxtable (Con), cabinet member for resources at Somerset CC, which faces a 15% cut, said the reduction matched its most pessimistic plan and would have “a huge impact on services”.

He said: “We will have to stop doing things… We will only be looking after statutory services.”

While the early release of individual figures for 2015-16 has been welcomed, treasurers bodies are due to meet senior civil servants to discuss missing details in the coming months.

Brian Roberts, former president of the Society of County Treasurers and Leicestershire CC director of corporate resources, said: “Having these before the summer recess is very helpful. But there is still a lot of uncertainty.”

Scrutiny is no more than whistling in the wind

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Nearly every other day now, councillors are being told that they are, ‘key to driving forward the innovations needed to transform local government, so that it can weather the current financial storm being visited upon it by Westminster’.
Along with this often junior government minister uttered blurb, which is actually code for we’re passing the buck – they wouldn’t describe it as a ‘financial storm’, but rather, local government doing its bit – comes advice that the scrutiny process is an integral element in any transformation strategy.
It’s somewhat disingenuous to identify scrutiny as the way forward, given the abysmal record it has even when richly resourced and supported, as in the case of the Parliamentary scrutiny system.
Almost every other week we hear and read statements from various Parliamentary committees, with Keith Vaz and Margaret Hodge having a seemingly insatiable appetite for appearing on our TV screens, with the opening words, “The government needs to….”, yet what difference does it make to what the government actually does?
Translate this to the amateur, volunteer ‘scout master’ world of the local government councillor, where officer support is always at a premium and constantly under threat from the slash and burn economics of deficit reduction, and scrutiny looks more like whistling in the wind, than an insightful process, that can beat a path to innovative service delivery.

By way of a footnote, I would point to the recent revelations regarding the Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust. Lincolnshire County Council has a health scrutiny committee, with South Holland District Council represented by an independent councillor, who takes every opportunity to tell us what the committee is, or more accurately, isn’t doing. I say isn’t doing, because, in theory, if LCC’s scrutiny of our local hospitals was in any way effective, Lincolnshire hospitals wouldn’t have one of the highest abnormal death rates in England would it? Unfortunately, they seem to have gotten themselves completely hung up on the proposed changes to our local ambulance service instead.

I want access to this database too

I gather the government intends to offer free access to the postal address database, for small businesses and charities. Having just fought, unsuccessfully, in county council elections, I believe there is a good case for extending the same access to local government election candidates.

Two of the many challenges for any candidate, are time management and workforce. Despite being a district councillor for 14 years, nothing can prepared me for the workload involved in fighting a single-handed campaign, across an area twice the size of my two member district council ward.

Treading the streets, pushing a leaflet thorough every letterbox in sight is hard work, but at least this doesn’t require you to search for an individual address, so can be done on autopilot to some extent. However, when it comes to targeted campaigning, such as in the case of postal voter (PV) letters, the printed list, in PDF format, provided by the council, with streets listed alphabetically, as opposed geographically, is less than helpful.

The major benefit of being able to access the postal address database for your division, would be the ability to reorganise the PV list by postcode, which are of course organised geographically. Armed with this list, one of the more time consuming jobs for any candidate, would become less of a chore.

As a Conservative candidate, it’s not really my job to make life easier for the opposition. However, if we want a more diverse, less Politically focussed range of candidates to stand in future elections, we should be seeking ways to make it a less daunting and labour intensive task. This is especially the case when the candidate is standing as an independent and unlikely to have any sort of Party campaign team to support them.

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