Money from a supermarket, or blood from a stone?

I received this email text today, it contains an intriguing idea, that seems almost too good to be true. A way of getting supermarkets to put something back into the communities from which they get so much!

I am contacting you to ask for your help regarding a new idea that would bring your Council more money.

The idea is based on legislation passed last year by the Northern Ireland Parliament to add a new levy on large supermarkets of 8.5% based on their current rateable value. Last year the Scottish Parliament passed similar legislation for a levy of 9.3%.

The idea is for English local authorities to be given the power to introduce a similar levy in their areas and to collect the revenue and spend it in ways they think would help local communities.

Evidence shows that the revenue from this levy has helped local businesses and communities in Northern Ireland and public services in Scotland.

Furthermore the concerns about this levy are unfounded: the British Retail Consortium have specifically said that the levy will not be passed on to customers, inward investment has increased in Northern Ireland and there would be a positive effect on employment.

Specifically, the proposal is:
“That the Secretary of State a) gives Local Authorities the power to introduce a local levy of 8.5% of the rate on large retail outlets in their area with a rateable annual value not less that £500,000; and b) requires that the revenue from this levy go directly to the Local Authority in order to be used to improve local communities in their areas by promoting local economic activity, local services and facilities, social and community wellbeing and environmental protection.”

The evidence for this and more is in the updated proposal here.

To date, 63 councils (of all party leaderships) have expressed serious interest in submitting this idea as a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act. I very much hope that your council would be interested in joining them. We think this proposal now has a real chance of success and want to work with councils to help achieve it.

Could you please put forward a motion for your next Council meeting resolving to submit this proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act? Further below is a suggest version for convenience.

Please keep me informed of any progress on this matter. Please contact me if can provide any assistance with this. My contact details are directly below.

Kind regards
Steve Shaw
National Co-ordinator
Local Works – helping councils use the Sustainable Communities Act
office: 020 7278 4443 direct: 020 7239 9053 mobile: 07788 646 933website: http://www.localworks.org

SAMPLE MOTION
notes the request from ‘Local Works’ to consider submitting the following proposal to the government under the Sustainable Communities Act:
‘That the Secretary of State gives Local Authorities the power to introduce a local levy of 8.5% of the rate on large retail outlets in their area with a rateable annual value not less that £500,000 and requires that the revenue from this levy be retained by the Local Authority in order to be used to improve local communities in their areas by promoting local economic activity, local services and facilities, social and community wellbeing and environmental protection.’
The Council notes that if this power was acquired it would present the opportunity to raise further revenue for the benefit of local communities, should the Council wish to use it.
The Council resolves to submit the proposal to the government under the Sustainable Communities Act and to work together with Local Works to gain support for the proposal from other councils in the region and across the country.

Wind farms – power to the people?

Although my last post highlighted the supposed new powers being given to the public when it comes to wind farms, I don’t believe it.

Just like Localism, the public are being mislead and sold a pup. Unless the government intends throwing all previous case precedent out of the window and telling a PINS that appeals by wind farm applicants are now out of bounds, people are going to be very disappointed by the outcomes from this latest bit of planning system spin.

Locals to get wind farm veto

Daily Telegraph 6th June 2013

By Robert Winnett, Political Editor

LOCAL communities will be given the power to block wind farms under planning rules to be unveiled today.
Senior Conservatives claim the move will effectively end the spread of the controversial turbines which have been blamed for blighting picturesque landscapes.
Ministers will announce that residents will have to be consulted over new wind farms with applications barred if there is significant opposition.
Councils are currently prevented from even considering applications for larger turbines.
However, under the plans, energy firms will be able to offer “incentives” – such as discounts on electricity bills – to persuade communities to agree to new wind farms.
When planning applications are submitted, officials will have to take into account topography and the impact on “views” and historic sites. Inspectors will also have to assess the “cumulative impact of wind turbines” amid fears that some areas are being overwhelmed by applications.
Currently, councils can be forced to accept new wind farms as national planning guidance states that renewable energy schemes should usually be permitted.
A senior Conservative source said: “The Prime Minister strongly feels that this is a real local issue and if people don’t want to have wind farms they don’t have to have them. This is a bombproof set of safeguards to protect the wishes of local people.”
Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, will today announce that legal planning guidance is to be altered and he will write to all councils and the Planning Inspectorate demanding that they use the new principles in current decisions.
Last night, Mr Pickles said: “We want to give local communities a greater say on planning, to give greater weight to the protection of landscape, heritage and local amenity.”
Despite senior Conservatives heralding the end of new onshore wind farms, the Liberal Democrats – including the Energy Secretary – believe that the new system of incentives could actually lead to an increase in turbines.
The Energy Department says that a community agreeing to a modest wind farm could see their power bills fall by an average of £400 per household.
Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, said: “We remain committed to the deployment of appropriately sited onshore wind, as a key part of a diverse, low-carbon and secure energy mix and committed to an evidence-based approach to supporting low carbon power.
“This is an important sector that is driving economic growth, supporting thousands of new jobs and providing a significant share of our electricity and I’m determined that local communities should share in these benefits.”

Letter to Local Government First magazine – Localism and planning

Dear sir,
 
I was both interested and concerned to see First, Issue 542, peppered with complaints regarding the relationship between the planning system and Localism, some even calling for the abolition of PINS because, apparently, they don’t get it.
 
The Localism Act has introduced much confusion for the public when it comes to influencing the planning process.  Comments made by members of the public on recent contentious planning applications in my own area, clearly indicate a belief that the Localism Act increases the public’s ability to prevent development from going ahead if enough of them shout loudly enough.
 
This mis-interpretation of the Localism Act’s intentions is, in turn, increasing pressure on councillors to be more outspoken and forceful when speaking at committee.  This pressure is increased further by the Localism Act’s guidance to councillors that advises that they can somehow express an opinion and even campaign on a planning issue, without being accused of pre-determination!  I wonder if any high powered planning barrister would be prepared to defend a decision made by a committee populated by such campaigning members?
 
Whilst I very much sympathise with the councillors who made these comments and understand their wish to represent fully their electorates’ views, I’m afraid it is they, not PINS who don’t get it.  
 
There is a clear need for the government to restate its intentions when it comes to how the Localism Act can be used to influence the planning system – through the process that makes the policy, not the one that determines individual applications. 

 

My best regards, 
 
Councillor Roger Gambba-Jones, 
Planning Committee Chairman, 
South Holland DC, Lincolnshire

Why don’t people vote?

Very interesting post election piece in today’s Telegraph, that seems to lay some of the blame at the door of Tony Blair, for the lack of voter interest in our electoral process. Whilst that might be true, there’s no getting away from the fact that all those who have followed Blair, have used the same approach to governing this country and have therefore had the same negative effect on the public’s attitude to voting. Put simply, we now have a political system of compromises.

Our leading politicians may think they are being very clever deploying the tactic of satisfying most of the people most of the time. However, all it does is confuse the public by blurring the differences between those who stand for election to be our political leaders. Just like some shoppers often leave the supermarket without having made a purchase, because there was too much to choose from, the public will will walk away from the ballot box because they can’t fig out who to choose.

A couple of less than ideal examples would be, the Tories and their confusion over EU membership and the Labour Party’s increasingly cooling relationship with the unions.

Copyright – Daily Telegraph comment Saturday 17th November 2012


Until voters feel involved, localism is a lost cause

THE American congressman Tip O’Neill once said that all politics is local. Yet judging by the pitifully poor turnouts in the contests to elect new police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in England and Wales, when people in this country are given the chance to influence local decision-making, the majority apparently does not want to know.

Earlier this year towns and cities rejected poorly promoted plans for elected mayors and the campaign for the PCCs was equally badly executed. The idiocy of holding the elections in November was the fault of the Liberal Democrats, who wanted them uncoupled from the local polls in May. Ministers only got fully behind the reform late in the day and failed to place an important extension of local accountability in a wider political context. Many people complained that they knew little about the candidates and even less about their powers. Moreover, a significant number objected to the whole idea on the grounds that it represented the politicisation of the police. That, again, was partly the Government’s fault for failing to promote the participation of more independent candidates.

But even if political leaders had spent the past six months talking about nothing else, voters would still not have flocked to the polling booths. Thursday’s lack of interest reflected a deeper malaise at the heart of our democracy that has been apparent for some time. Turnouts at national and local elections have been plummeting for 20 years and a report earlier this year from the Hansard Society suggested that political engagement is lower than at any time since the equal franchise was introduced in 1928.

In a recent survey of British social attitudes, only 56 per cent considered voting to be a civic duty; the number who thought it was not worth voting at all has more than doubled since 1991, from 8 per cent to 18 per cent. In the last three general elections, 65 per cent or less of the electorate has voted. The nadir was in 2005, with a turnout of 59 per cent: Tony Blair’s government, which secured 36 per cent of the vote, was returned with the support of just one voter in five.

It is telling that the highest turnout at a general election in recent years – 78 per cent – was in 1992. That was a contest in which people felt they had a real choice and that the outcome would influence the direction the country might take. Out of that defeat sprang New Labour, whose leaders set out to destroy politics as a battle of ideas and turn it into a technocratic pursuit of the floating voter underpinned by a mendacious mix of spin, focus-grouping and fence-sitting.

This lack of conviction and deliberate denial of leadership fed into a popular cynicism about politicians that was compounded by the expenses scandal in the last parliament. After all, it is not as though people have lost all interest in politics. Opinions are traded more freely than ever via the internet but they often have a common theme – a belief that politicians, whether national or local, don’t listen to the electorate, but rather conduct a debate among themselves and with the media that excludes the rest of the population. Why bother voting if you feel it cannot make a difference? It is this sense of participation – not simply in the vote itself, but in what comes afterwards – that is missing. Yet, ironically, the one thing that the creation of police and crime commissioners was supposed to achieve was to reconnect an important local institution with the people it serves.

No doubt many will conclude that the turnout indicates a popular rejection of localism – the idea that people should wrench back control over their public services after years of centralisation. They are too busy, have too many other distractions or they simply cannot be bothered, so just let the professionals get on with it. Yet if voters were given the chance to make a real difference – perhaps through a greater use of local referendums – then more would take part. Yes, we want our services to be efficiently run and to work properly; but that will only happen if we have more power to influence how they are delivered. National party machines have had their day. The lesson to be drawn from Thursday’s debacle is that we need more localism, not less.

Pickles calls for more parishes

As if to prove my point regarding Eric Pickles hatred of local government, he’s continuing his campaign to rid the country of local government, be it district, borough, county, or even unitary. I’ve long believed that the campaign to encourage quality parish councils, was part of central government’s ambitions to rid itself of the unruly brat called local government.

Let’s not forget that, unlike district councils and above, parish and town councils have to get all of their cash from local taxpayers via a precept. Also, very few, if any, of those elected to this the lowest level of local democracy, receive allowances. This combination of very limited funding, untrained and un-remunerated members and little in the way of professional staff, means that most of these councils spend their time fretting about very, very local issues, such as the length of the grass on verges or why the streets aren’t being swept more often.

Pickles and co are seeking to distract local people into thinking that they are having a real say in what’s going on locally, because they now have their own parish, or town council. This whilst also starving higher level councils of cash as a way of turning them in to no more than front men for central government policies. Westminster will then be able do what they like, without the inconvenience of being challenged by those in local government.

Given the continued uncertainty that we all suffer when it comes to our income and the cost of living, what chance is there that the people of Spalding would be willing to possibly double the amount of council tax they pay as the Spalding Special Expenses, in order to set up a Spalding Town Council?

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online 31 October, 2012 | By Kaye Wiggins

The Department for Communities & Local Government has set out a range of proposals that aim to make it quicker and easier for local residents to set up parish councils.

Following a call from communities secretary Eric Pickles to “remove red tape” around the creation of parish councils to “give local people a real sense of community control in their areas”, the department has set out a series of ideas that will be open for consultation until January.

In its consultation document, the department said: “We want to tilt the balance in favour of community groups, where there is the demonstrable support of a majority of local people. Where local people express popular support for the creation of a town or parish council, the local authority should work with the community to achieve that.”

The plans set out three possible routes to achieve Mr Pickles’ vision and are summarised below:

Option 1: Changing guidance

Guidance “could strongly encourage authorities to complete the process in less time”

It “could make it clear that the right weight should be given to what is effective and convenient for the local community, separately from for the local authority itself.”

It “could propose that as a matter of good practice, the local authority could carry out a review of a decision not to create a town or parish council if campaigners want one.”

Option 2: Legal change

The number of signatures required to force a council to consider an application for a parish council to be set up could be halved.

The DCLG document notes: “The disadvantage of this option is that lowering the threshold for a petition triggering a community governance review runs the risk that petitions which do not have sufficient community backing will be considered, potentially wasting resources or leading to the creation of a council which is not wanted by the local community.”

The timescale for a “community governance review” – the process by which a parish council would be considered – could be shortened to six months. Alternatively there could be a single limit of nine or 12 months for the whole process, from the receipt of a petition

Councils could be required to publish timescales linked to the electoral cycle, so that if a parish council is approved there would not be a delay caused by the wait for the next election.

Option 3: Neighbourhood forums

A neighbourhood forum could submit an application to trigger a community governance review, rather than having to submit a petition with the required number of signatures.

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.