LGC’s essential daily briefing
Big interview, small unitary: Rutland CC’s chief Helen Briggs on sustainability, reorganisation and advantages of being small scale
After a long, hot summer September is suddenly upon us, the children are heading back to school, and MPs and peers are returning to Parliament. How on earth have we survived their absence?
While August is historically the month when, in the absence of Westminster politics dominating the headlines, airwaves and television studios, that silly stories aplenty come to the surface.
However, it has very much been ‘serious season’ in local government circles this summer though. LGC rounds up some of the key themes and big stories from the past month you may have missed while you were away on your holidays and/or taking a much-needed/deserved break.
The housing crisis continues
The social housing green paper – the one that former housing and communities secretary Sajid Javid promised would be “the most substantial report of its kind for a generation” – finally emerged from the darkness in the depths of August. Its publication was delayed from when Parliament was in session and it soon became clear why: it ultimately fell far short of expectations, although accompanying right-to-buy reforms have given councils some extra room for manoeuvre.
Mr Javid’s successor, James Brokenshire also used August to announce a new rough sleeping strategy (which came with no new money) and a new programme aimed at boosting the growth of so-called ‘garden communities’ (which also came with no new money).
Never quiet in Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire CC’s existential crisis rumbled on throughout August. In an explosive interview with LGC, which is well worth a read if you missed it first time around, the county’s former leader Heather Smith announced she was quitting the Conservatives as she defended her administration’s decisions and took aim at the council’s newest and youngest members. “Anyone would think we’d done absolutely bugger all for years and it’s just not true,” she said. This came just after it emerged one of Northamptonshire’s former director of children’s services had a “strong” reluctance to contribute to savings.
Despite Cllr Smith’s protestations, Northamptonshire faces a £70m blackhole this financial year. However, LGC revealed last week how Northamptonshire is not expected to significantly increase thresholds for either adult or children’s social care support, while legal experts are divided on how far they think the council can go with cutting statutory services.
Meanwhile, leaders across the county (with the exception of Corby BC) have reluctantly backed plans to split Northamptonshire into two new unitary authorities.
Financial fears increase elsewhere
Official financial figures released in August showed councils overspent on children’s social care services by 10% last year. As local authorities struggle to cope with rising demand, and reduced budgets, it is no wonder even more places are coming under pressure.
From Torbay Council to Lancashire CC, via Somerset CC, Oxfordshire CC and Birmingham City Council – there are plenty of concerns being voiced, through one means or another, about the state of some of the sector’s finances.
With that very much in mind, the debate about the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy’s plan to create a financial resilience index continues after the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers revealed it has “serious misgivings” about the proposal. Cipfa is now digesting the responses it received to its consultation on the matter.
On the issue of local government finance generally, Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis revealed London boroughs are likely to lose out most from the fair funding review, while LGC analysis found Conservative-led councils will be the main beneficiaries of the government’s decision to stump up the £152.5m cost to councils experiencing negative revenue support grant.
There is certainly something strange going on in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough where it has been announced the combined authority’s chief executive Martin Whiteley has left his post just 14 months after being appointed. Questions surround that departure, while questions also surround the combined authority’s general recruitment processes after the appointment of Conservative county councillor Paul Raynes to the strategy and planning director’s role.
Meanwhile, Newcastle-under-Lyme BC chief executive and acting returning officer John Sellgren left his post by mutual consent. This came after he was suspended last year when it emerged more than 1,000 voters were disenfranchised at the last general election.
A quick look to the future
Will the government come up with radical reforms to the social care crisis this autumn?
Will councils be any the wiser about exactly how (and by how much) they will be funded in the future?
Will areas be given any input, or gain any insight, into what post-Brexit Britain might look like?
Will the sector get any answers to these questions, and more, during the upcoming political party conference season? One might not want to hold their breath.
‘Serious season’ is just about to get even more serious…
By David Paine, acting news editor