The Local Government Association will continue to push for the full localisation of business rates, the body’s chair has told LGC.
In an interview ahead of the association’s annual conference in Birmingham this week, Lord Porter (Con) said sorting out a sustainable solution for council finance would be his priority but warned health and social care integration might now fall into the “too difficult box”.
He said the arithmetic of a hung parliament meant ministers would be less keen to bring forward new bills so the LGA’s focus instead would be on identifying opportunities for reform using secondary legislation set out in existing laws. Such amendments do not usually require MPs to vote on them.
Lord Porter told LGC: “The world is considerably different to what any honest person would have been envisaging [before the general election]. The upshot of that is the government are going to be less keen to do stuff but, when they do, our position will be stronger.”
The new government has already dropped the Local Government Finance Bill that was due to bring in 100% retention of business rates and abolish revenue support grant by the end of the decade.
Lord Porter said: “Finance is still the single biggest [priority]. Because there is no finance bill we haven’t got a sense of how local government is going to be put on a sustainable footing.”
He said the LGA would continue to push for full localisation of business rates.
“Our ask is a very simple one, I just want councils collectively to be able to keep all the money that is raised locally, obviously with a bit of redistribution between members,” he said.
“Staff here will be working on what’s in existing legislation that can be done through statutory instruments to get the changes we need.”
In his speech to the conference this afternoon, Lord Porter was also expected to call for an end to the requirement that councils must hold a referendum if they want to increase council tax above 2% a year and call for councils to be “at the front of the queue” if ”austerity is coming to an end”.
Asked by LGC about the LGA’s approach to social care, Lord Porter said if the government was “not going to come up with a sustainable solution for the next 20 years” then ministers would need to make enough money available to keep it going for the next parliament.
He added: “We have still got an aspiration for adult social care and health care to be better integrated but that’s probably going to be too hard to do in this parliament.”
Noting the “housing crisis hasn’t gone away”, Lord Porter said this would also be a focus for the LGA and an area where the government was likely to be open to ideas.
“I can’t see a Conservative government wanting to go back to the country with the housing market as dysfunctional as it is at the moment because that doesn’t play into the narrative of ‘we’re in it for everybody’,” he said.
On Brexit, Lord Porter said the LGA had given ministers “some things they can do that will play well in the country”. He declined to go into details but said it related to deregulation, supporting rural communities and funding.
“If there is £9bn net spare at the end of each year when we’re no longer in the club we want to help them spend that in a way that gives them the best results,” Lord Porter said.
Meanwhile, Lord Porter said he was “really pleased” communities secretary Sajid Javid was remaining in post. In November last year Lord Porter told LGC he did not have the same strong personal relationship with Mr Javid as he had with his predecessor Greg Clark. However, he said that had now changed.
“We have gone from not speaking very often to now we even talk on Sundays, much to my wife’s disgust. The relationship’s in a strong place.”