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News Review - 15 December 2011

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LGC’s comprehensive round-up of local government news.

(Click headlines for more)

THIS WEEK’S STORIES

POLITICS

Greenhalgh to stand down

  • Hammersmith & Fulham LBC’s charismatic leader Stephen Greenhalgh (Con) is to stand down next summer.
    The borough’s trademark has been to cut council tax and Cllr Greenhalgh signed off by announcing a 3.75% cut in tax levels next year.
    Hammersmith & Fulham was named LGC’s council of the year in 2010 under Cllr Greenhalgh’s leadership and prime minister David Cameron praised his contribution to the sector.
    “Stephen Greenhalgh has demonstrated that good management and tackling waste can keep council tax bills down while protecting services,” he said.

Westminster proposes end to ‘something for nothing’

  • Benefit claimants could be required to volunteer in return for payments and social housing tenants could be evicted for criminal behaviour, Westminster City Council said as it launched a two-month consultation.
    Westminster leader Colin Barrow (Con, below) said: “Asking everyone from businesses, residents and the wider community to play their part is important in changing people’s expectations away from a culture of getting something for nothing.”
    The plans have been branded a “con-trick” by opposition politicians. Labour group leader Paul Dilmoldenberg accused the administration of financial mismanagement and an over-reliance on parking fees to keep council tax low.

FINANCE

Tory leader considers council tax rebellion

  • A Conservative county leader is considering joining Labour and Green leaders rebelling against next year’s council tax freeze.
    Draft budget papers published by Cumbria CC revealed plans to refuse government funding for a freeze and instead increase council tax by 2.5% next year.
    Leader Eddie Martin (Con) said the authority was in a difficult position because it had elections in 2013, the year in which many councils such as Essex CC and Bolton MBC have been warning residents they will have to hike council tax as high as 5% to make up lost revenues.

Social enterprise improvement firm opens

  • A social enterprise overseen by a board of councillors and offering guidance on improvement and efficiency opened its doors for business.
    iESE Ltd, formed from the former regional improvement and efficiency partnership for the south-east, has been established as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, with director Andrew Larner as its sole guarantor.
    The company will generate income from fees charged to councils that benefit from its advice. Surpluses generated will be reinvested in the company.

Councils ‘dealing well with spending cuts’, says report

  • A report by local government auditors said local authorities weathered the cuts well over the past eight months.
    A survey by financial advisory firm Grant Thornton drew on its own reviews of 24 English councils in the lead-up to their 2010-11 budgets, ranking them using a ‘traffic light’ system. All councils surveyed achieved amber or green rankings, but the report warned that they “must prepare for future challenges.”
    Paul Dossett, Grant Thornton’s partner for local government, said: “Overall, and quite surprisingly given … the scale of funding reductions required, local authorities have coped well so far. Though this is positive, the challenges remain significant and very real.”

SOCIAL SERVICES

Care homes review website planned

  • The government is planning to have care homes for older people reviewed and rated by members of the public on a new website.
    All care providers would be rated in a searchable online database, set to work in a similar way to hotel reviews site TripAdvisor.
    Records of mistreatment would be included, along with the latest information from inspections as well as feedback from residents and families. Details will be set out in a white paper on social care, due to be published in the spring.

Social care survey tracks satisfaction levels

  • A survey of 150,000 people who receive council-funded social care painted a snapshot of people’s satisfaction with the services they receive.
    Among the findings of the NHS Information Centre’s Personal Social Services Adult Social Care Survey was that 25% of respondents felt that they either had too little control or no control over their lives.
    Some 62% of respondents said they were “very satisfied” with the services they received, 10% said they were either dissatisfied or unsure.

ENVIRONMENT

LGA criticises solar power ‘broken promises’

  • Many councils are pulling the plug on plans to install solar energy schemes in publicly owned buildings because of government cuts to the subsidy that incentivises the work. The LGA said thousands of the nation’s poorest families would face higher electricity bills as a result.
    A survey found that most councils with plans to install solar panels on houses, schools, leisure centres and town halls had dropped them because of the 50% cut to the rate of feed-in tariffs being rushed through four months early.

Welsh council mulls monthly bin collections

  • Households rubbish bins in a Welsh council could be emptied only once a month, sparking fury from some local politicians. Isle of Anglesey CC, one of Wales’ leading recycling authorities, said it was exploring the move to meet tougher recycling targets, LGC’s sister title Materials Recycling Week reported.

Reported cases of fly-tipping down 13.5%

  • Fly-tipping dealt with by councils this year fell by 13.5%, according to figures from the Environment Agency. The total number of incidents for 2010-11 was 820,000, although the EA said some of this reduction was due to changes in the reporting arrangements of some local authorities.
    Nearly two-thirds (63%) of tipping cases involved household waste and 8% was commercial material.

HEALTH

Integration exemplar seeks financial help

  • A leading NHS integrated trust sought financial help from its strategic health authority cluster after reporting a “precarious” cashflow position.
    Wye Valley Trust, the first NHS body to provide acute, community and adult social care services, said its ability to pay its bills “on a timely basis” was being “impeded”.
    Chief executive Martin Woodford said the trust’s director of resources had met the Midlands and East SHA cluster to discuss “credible turnaround support”.
    A Wye Valley spokeswoman attributed the situation to income, cost-improvement plan slippage and expenditure pressures.

GP contracts barrier to cost-saving care model

  • GP contracts would make it “difficult, if not impossible” to introduce a cost-saving Spanish integrated care model in the UK, a report by the NHS Confederation said.
    The model sees a private contractor paid a per capita sum for the local population by the local authority for primary and acute care.
    The report described the cost savings as “striking”. But it said that the fact that Spanish GPs were employees made it easier to integrate them in the system.
    It warned that the “embedding” of some services in the quality and outcomes framework could prove a barrier to implementation in the UK.
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