This week’s policy updates from our Lead Members on LGA policy boards includes news and information from:
- Housing and Environment
- Culture, Tourism and Sport
- Fire Commission
- Finance Committee.
Regular updates on the work of the LGA Lib Dems on policy boards will be published on the ALDC website and feedback on any of the matters raised is encouraged.
Housing & Environment Board
Lead Member – Cllr Keith House (Eastleigh BC)
The key policy issues on housing and the environment are the obvious ones from the Autumn Statement, and related to it:
- New Homes Bonus saved for councils outside of London (we can’t win everything, but this was an irritating pro-appeasing Boris move)
- £300m over two years extra borrowing for councils with Housing Revenue Accounts to build more homes – opening the door to further council borrowing and delivery in the future and a major policy victory
- Study into councils’ role in delivering housing over the next year
- More work on-going with Treasury on how to help unblock housing delivery where government agencies are the barrier to delivery
This all comes from a really strong dialogue with Danny Alexander in particular and builds on the work started with Don Foster at CLG
Culture, Tourism and Sport Board
Lead Member – Cllr Flick Rea (LB Camden)
‘Culture’ in one of its meanings equals ‘growth’, which is currently on everyone’s agenda.
As Liberal Democrats we need to understand the potential benefits – economic, social and regenerative of a strong culture policy!
Culture in its widest sense should be a central pillar of a civilised, harmonious society with economic and social benefits for all. When we add the millions of jobs in sport, tourism, the arts and the creative industries to the vast numbers of people participating and volunteering, it’s possible to start quantifying the benefits to society provided by this sector.
The main issue is making people realise its full value, particularly those who control purse strings in local and national government. Also the way the sector plays an important part in helping to fulfil other priorities.
Members of the LGA’s Culture Tourism and Sport Board (I am its Chair) have been focussing on supporting and promoting the links between investment in the arts, heritage, tourism and sport and the visitor economy. The sector also plays a large part in the skills agenda, and encourages regeneration, wellbeing and community involvement.
We believe we did help to make this case resulting in the comparatively low arts cut of only 5% in the summer spending review. The Chancellor’s statement of Thursday 5th December also, according to the Arts Council, “recognised the significant value that arts and culture bring to this country’s economy. It contained points that were encouraging on a potential tax relief for theatre and social investment tax relief. Both will have the potential for bolstering the cultural sector.”
Current issues also include concerns over the slow roll-out of broadband the potential of future ‘anniversary’ projects (commencement of WW1 in 2014 and 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015) sporting legacy projects, the Bristol Playing Out (Lib Dem)initiative, licensing regulations, community events and, of course libraries.
Lead Member – Cllr Jeremy Hilton (Gloucestershire CC)
The industrial dispute between the Government and the Fire Brigades Union continues without a resolution.
The issue relates to fire pensions and retirement at the age of sixty. The FBU announced further strike action for Friday 13th December and Saturday 14th December, between the hours of 6pm and 10pm on both days. Members of the FBU in England, Scotland and Wales voted in favour of industrial action short of strike action. The vote was 15,758 in favour and 2,632 against.
The dispute is over fitness and capabilities of firefighters working to the age of 60 rather than 55. On the 1st November, the fire minister Brandon Lewis MP wrote to fire authorities. Here is the link to the letter:
Sir Ken Knight’s Review – Facing the Future:
This review for fire service efficiencies and operations in England was published in May 2013 and it was expected the government’s response would be published in October. I have sought clarification of when a government announcement will be made.
The review made a controversial suggestion (page 74 – third bullet point) that the governance of fire authorities should be handed over to Police & Crime Commissioners. Liberal Democrat members on the LGA Fire Commission have indicated our opposition to this suggestion; we believe that Fire and Rescue Authorities should remain in the local government family under the governance of local councillors.
Here is the link to Facing the Future:
LGA Fire Conference – 11-12 March 2014 – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
The 17th annual fire conference is in Cardiff. Brandon Lewis the Minister for Fire and Resilience is due to speak on the Wednesday morning.
If you wish to attend the conference further information can be found at: www.local.gov.uk/events
Lead member – Cllr Barbara Janke (Bristol City)
Much of the work of the committee has been on Rewiring Public Services. Four task and finish groups were set up on five year settlements, the Barnett formula, local treasuries and municipal bonds.
Five year settlements:
Although the principle of five year settlements was supported, there has been discussion but no agreement about distribution and needs assessments. I have suggested more work needs to be done on looking at other means of raising revenue and powers that might be given to local authorities. I understand there is to be a piece of joint work with CIPFA to look at local authority funding in England. Whatever happens in Scotland following the referendum will be an powerful incentive to reconsider the funding of local government in England in the face of the current unfair situation where local powers have been given in Wales and Scotland .
The Barnett Formula:
The view supported is for this funding to be redistributed on a needs based formula rather than at present by head of population. If the Scottish result is for independence then this will be very relevant but also in the event of Devo Max. The LGA view is that this compounds the unfairness in the approach to English local government in that the funding per head of population is more generous in Scotland and Wales than in England.
Work continues on this with participation from many councils . Although the Public Works Loan board offers good value in interest rates, there are benefits in terms of providing incentives for investment in the local economy not only for local business, which stands to gain from improved economic performance, but also for charities and local organisations. It also offers other opportunities for investment from local government pension funds, which could offer finance for things such as much-needed housing.
Local treasuries /Total Place and retention of the business rate:
A strong case has been made for some time for local place-based funding with local authorities as key players. A submission has been made to the Parliamentary Select Committee building on the case already strongly made for the retention of business rates. Further work is being done on other ways of raising revenue eg local taxes as well as the right to set fees and charges, which fully recover costs.
In addition the LGA has responded to the Autumn statement. This response has already been circulated.