Get up to speed for the new term with our refresher of the big stories of the summer
Today’s top story: Agreement reached on Syrian resettlement target
Today’s election nightmare: ‘Simple human error’ blamed for Barnet poll fiasco
Today’s talking point: ’May could make relationships with business more vital than ever’
With the kids heading back to school and MPs back in Westminster after the summer recess, the pace of life is set to pick up again. While Brexit and the widely criticised childhood obesity strategy made the national headlines, here we highlight some of the big stories on LGCplus.com that you may have missed over the summer months.
The new work programme
In early August LGC revealed that areas with devo deals that included commitments to give them a greater say over the successor to the work programme were being asked to stump up some of their own cash by the Department for Work & Pensions. The budget has been slashed by 80%, giving weight to the argument that devolution is little more than a back door way of passing down cuts.
There is also widespread frustration about the procurement process for the new programme, leading the LGA to call for responsibility to be devolved to local government.
Former communities secretary Sir Eric Pickles, now the government’s anti-corruption champion and the UK’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, popped up to publish his report into electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets LBC. In an interview with LGC he expressed concern that postal voting was falling victim to some “sleight of hand”. He also predicted that Theresa May’s government would be less wedded to the concept of elected mayors.
Elected mayors: part one
Sir Eric appeared to be bang on the money when, a couple of weeks later, The Times reported that the new PM was set to end the condition that areas looking to do devo deals must accept elected mayors, in part over concerns that Labour will use them to create a “platform” for revival in the party’s heartlands. It remains unclear where the story came from and what the PM’s exact position is. Lord Heseltine said he did not believe it, the normally well informed Local Government Association chair Lord Porter called for clarity, while in a statement DCLG insisted “elected mayors remain the best way” to make devo deals work. Despite these rebuttals the report has inevitably sparked some serious rethinking in some areas that have reluctantly accepted mayors as part of the devolution deals.
Elected mayors: part two
Whatever the future holds, in the places where devolution deals are most advanced legislation has already been passed which makes the mayoral contests in May 2017 all but unstoppable. This includes Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region where the first candidates have now been selected by Labour. The political make-up of these areas means Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram are favourites to take the newly created offices and LGC has interviewed them both - here are the top lines from both interviews:
In the West Midlands, where legislation to create a mayoral combined authority is currently before parliament, Labour has selected local MEP Sion Simon. However, rumours abound that Andy Street, John Lewis managing director and chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, will be the Conservative candidate in the West Midlands and may well give Mr Simon a serious run for his money.
The consultation on the move to 100% business rates retention closes on 26 September. While most interested parties are working on their responses behind the scenes over the summer, we did get an indication of the concerns of the shires: the County Councils Network published new research highlighting the disproportionate impact of mandatory reliefs while the district and county treasurers societies issued a joint statement highlighting higher than average council tax paid by shire residents. LGC also revealed the results of the business rates growth pilots and reported on an apparent attempt to limit the number of business rates appeals via a last minute addition to proposed regulations on the new check, challenge, appeal system.