Stay up to date with all the latest news for local and parish councils with our weekly roundup.
News roundup - 26 February 2021
Staff shortages and a lack of available polling stations risk bringing chaos to May’s local elections in England, officials have warned, with concerns that some counts could take so long they contravene the law.
The dearth of staff is so acute that some councils are appealing for pandemic volunteers, who have delivered food parcels or helped at vaccination centres, to assist at polling stations on 6 May.
New government ‘levelling up’ projects are being funded partly by diverting money originally earmarked for the Towns Fund, it has emerged.
Local government secretary Robert Jenrick has been served a pre-action letter warning of legal action to allow virtual council meetings to continue.
The Association of Democratic Services Officers and Lawyers in Local Government have told lawyers to seek a declaratory judgement from the High Court to enable such meetings to take place within existing legislation.
Blossoming tree circles will be planted in cities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the next five years, as part of a new project to signal ‘reflection and hope’.
The National Trust and partners will work with local communities to design and plant the new blossom spaces. The Trust also hopes to embed an annual marking of Spring blossom season, emulating Japan’s hanami, to boost tourism and help people connect with nature.
News roundup - 5 February 2021
Local and mayoral elections in England are to go ahead in May as planned, the government has confirmed, but with potential restrictions on campaigning, prompting Labour to warn that this must not disadvantage poorer parties.
Under a plan published on Friday by the Cabinet Office, polling stations will be fitted with screens and hand sanitiser, with councils allocated extra money to help make voting and the counting process safe amid coronavirus.
The Government has ruled out releasing national funds for flood recovery in the wake of Storm Christoph.
Communities in the north of England and Wales have begun picking up the pieces after hundreds of properties were deluged.
Improvements in how councils use data to deliver services during the pandemic are under threat because of the “narrowly focused” nature of the support available to local authorities, a government advisory body has warned.
The Centre for Data Ethics & Innovation (CDEI), the government’s advisory body on the responsible use of AI and data-driven technology, this week published a report highlighting how the pandemic had accelerated the innovative use of data at the local level.
Local authorities are being urged to apply for a share of £20m funding to help increase the number of on-street electric vehicle chargepoints.
The funding – available under the On-Street Residential Chargepoint Scheme (ORCS) for 2021/22 – will cover 75% of the capital costs of procuring and installing the chargepoint and an associated dedicated parking bay if required.
The Government said the £20m could deliver 4,000 more chargepoints, doubling the number available across the UK.
Funding for council schemes supporting people forced to self-isolate due to COVID-19 do not go far enough, according to new research.
Analysis by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found demand was far outstripping supply for discretionary payments to workers who are ineligible for the Government’s main scheme, under which £500 is given to low-paid employees who cannot work from home.
News roundup - 29 January 2021
Lack of venues, volunteers and safety of voters and polling staff due to Covid-19 are key issues for senior figures who support an autumn date.
A further postponement to this year’s local elections, in the wake of the continuing difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic, is backed by the vast majority of senior council figures across England.
Only 11% of the senior officials dealing with the forthcoming elections believe they should go ahead in May as planned, despite the government’s determination to press ahead.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has notified the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) that the appropriate sum for the purpose of section 137(4)(a) of the Local Government Act 1972 (the 1972 Act) for parish and town councils in England for 2021-22 is £8.41 per elector.
This is the amount as a result of increasing the amount of £8.32 for 2020-2021 by the percentage increase in the retail index between September 2019 and September 2020, in accordance with Schedule 12B to the 1972 Act.
Local government officers are seeking legal advice to work out if councils can continue to hold meetings remotely without a change to the law.
Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) and Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) are questioning the Government’s refusal to allow virtual meetings to continue on the grounds there is not time for the primary legislation needed.
News roundup - 22 January 2021
We have collated together the local, regional and national funding available for local (town and parish) councils during the coronavirus outbreak.
The government is planning to introduce new laws to protect statues and monuments from being removed “on a whim or at the behest of a baying mob”, the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said.
The proposed legislation would require local and town councils to request planning permission for any changes to current statues and monuments, with a minister given the final veto on any proposals.
Village Halls Week is a national celebration of the more than 10,000 village halls across England, the volunteers that run them and the difference they make to the rural communities they serve.
The initiative is led by Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) and supported by the 38 county-based rural development charities which make up the ACRE Network.
Local elections will go ahead on 6 May despite the ongoing pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled.
Mr Johnson’s decision comes as returning officers called for protection from lawsuits amid concerns they could be held personally responsible – and sued – if people catch COVID while voting.
Councils are planning on installing just 35 on-street electric vehicle chargers each by 2025 on average, an investigation has revealed.
A freedom of information request by Centrica shows there are 7,682 on-street chargers currently installed across the UK, with 9,317 more planned over the next four years.
Local government secretary Robert Jenrick has promised to back councils as they tackle flooding in the wake of Storm Christoph.
Councils in the north of England and Wales have been on alert this week as rivers threatened to breach defences.
News roundup - 15 January 2021
An extra £20.4m is to be provided by the government to extend the current self isolation support grants scheme to the end of this financial year after many councils reported running out of the discretionary funding provided so far.
A trade union has called on councils to take back control of leisure facilities after estimating leisure services giant Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) has cut 2,000 staff on zero hours contracts since the start of the pandemic.
Unite also said GLL has cut more than 500 jobs since last March, reinforcing the case for councils to take back control of the gyms, swimming pools and sports halls it operates.
News roundup - 12 November 2020
The major share of a £1.57bn fund dedicated to supporting the recovery of cultural assets has been awarded outside of London, according to the Government.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has announced that grants from the latest round of the Culture Recovery Fund will protect 162 heritage sites across the country to ensure that jobs and access to arts, culture and heritage in local communities are protected in the months ahead.
Research released to coincide with Flood Action Week (9th – 15th November) highlights how flood damage could have an even more devastating impact on victims than usual this winter, with half of adults saying they feel their home has increased in sentimental value.
The findings showed that one in eight (12%) people have no idea whether they live in a flood risk area, meaning millions could be at risk of being caught out by a flood. This makes it more important than ever for everyone to check their flood risk online, and for those in flood risk areas to follow the Environment Agency’s Prepare. Act. Survive.’ plan to safeguard their treasured homes and possessions.
Local authority leaders have called on the Government to invest more in culture, sport and leisure activities as a new report reveals councils spend over £2bn a year on these areas.
Entitled Leisure under lockdown: how culture and leisure services responded to COVID-19, the report includes a series of case studies showing how people used culture, sport and leisure to connect and take care of each other during the first lockdown.
It argues that these sectors have played a vital role in supporting people’s physical and mental wellbeing and it urges the Government to provide over-stretched councils with the funds they need to continue supporting them.
Survey reveals 8 out of 10 people support measures to reduce road traffic and two-thirds support reallocating road space for active travel.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has given councils across England a further £175 million to create safe space for cycling and walking as surveys and independent polls show strong public support for high-quality schemes.
News roundup - 5 November 2020
Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) has issued information for village halls to help them understand the implications of the new nationwide lockdown restrictions which come into force today. All halls are required to close their doors, but a few uses will still be allowed.
The news is a body blow for the voluntary committees who rose to the challenge of putting in place complicated Covid-19 Secure measures over the summer months with support from ACRE Network members to allow their buildings to safely reopen. Many are worried about the loss of income from hiring out their space to local community groups and businesses.
The SLCC has received a response from Luke Hall MP, Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government with regard to Covid-19 and financial support for town and parish councils.
The letter expresses his gratitude for all the work that has been carried out by town and parish councils and recognises the power of building relationships throughout local communities and what can be achieved.
Tier three level funding will now be rolled out to councils across the country along with cash to support a revised shielding programme as the country enters a second lockdown later this week, LGC has learned.
During a webinar with communities secretary Robert Jenrick and council chief executives and leaders, councils were told they would receive additional funding of £8 per head for actions to tackle Covid, including ramping up local test and trace operations as well as £20 per head for discretionary business support following the prime minsters’ announcement on Saturday that a new lockdown will begin on Thursday.
Under a new local shielding framework which councils have been asked to put into place from Thursday, areas will receive £14 per clinically extremely vulnerable person in their area to ensure they have access to essential supplies.
Local authorities are now able to apply for grants to fund projects that explore how technology can reduce road offending and improve road safety.
The Road Safety Trust, a road safety charity, will open its Main Theme Programme to applications on 25 February. The 2020 funding was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but is being reinstated for 2021.
Grants are available for up to two or three years depending on the programme and can range from £10,000 up to £200,000. Since it was established in 2014, the Road Safety Trust has awarded grants worth £3.7m to 49 different projects.
News roundup - 29 October 2020
The Government has pledged to invest £100m in supporting public leisure centres this winter.
The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are working with Sports England and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to design a £100m scheme to support public leisure centres.
Homelessness in rural areas in England has more than doubled in the last two years, according to analysis published as campaigners warn of planning reforms likely to worsen the situation.
The number of households categorised as homeless in rural local authorities in England rose to 19,975 – an increase of 115% from 2017-18 – according to the countryside charity CPRE, and the Rural Services Network, which represents many parish councils and other countryside organisations.
The aim has been to seek evidence around the key issues raised in petitions, correspondence and debate. These are:
- market-related information
- injuries and accidents
- anti-social behaviour and illegal activity
- environmental information
- intelligence related to non-conformity and non-compliance with product requirements
- international comparisons
Indicators from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey covering the period 21 to 25 October 2020 to understand the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on people, households and communities in Great Britain.
News roundup - 8 October 2020
New Government guidance on neighbourhood planning
New Government guidance on neighbourhood planning encourages principal councils to pass on higher Community Infrastructure Levy share to parish councils and others where neighbourhood plan referendums have been postponed due to Coronavirus.
Full story: SLCC.co.uk
Extra support for councils to expand services for domestic abuse victims and their children
Extra support will be given to councils to help them to prepare for the introduction of landmark legislation that will ensure domestic abuse victims and their families get the vital help they need has been announced today (5 October 2020) by Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing Kelly Tolhurst MP.
Thousands more people are expected to be helped from April 2021 when the new law comes into force placing a duty on councils to support victims of domestic abuse.
Full story: gov.uk
Council leaders see ‘community wealth building’ as post-COVID priority
Councils should focus on policies that strengthen and protect the health, wealth and wellbeing of local communities as they attempt to recover from the pandemic, a new report says.
A poll of 1,700 organisations and individuals by the design and consultancy for natural and built assets, Arcadis, found that more than 60% of local government respondents agreed that a focus on ‘community wealth building’ would help to revitalise town centres.
Full story: localgov.co.uk
News roundup - 24 September 2020
IFS: Councils face £3.1bn Covid shortfall
Councils face a £3.1bn financial shortfall as a result of the financial impact of Covid exceeding additional government funding, according to the latest Institute for Fiscal Studies research.
Full story: LGCPlus.com
Charity warns many council websites are still inaccessible
Inaccessible council websites are preventing millions of disabled people from accessing vital services and information, a charity has warned.
Scope has found that nine out of ten of England’s biggest councils have websites with accessibility errors.
Its research found issues with confusing layouts, problems enlarging text, poor colour contrasts and difficulties with screen reader accessibility.
Full story: LocalGov.co.uk
Data Protection – Important News
You may not be aware that a recent judgement handed down by the European Court of Justice will affect the way that we store our data.
Town and parish councils of every size are responsible for managing large amounts of data which are often held in cloud storage. If this storage is operated within the United States the European Court of Justice ruling has now removed the Privacy Shield which had, until July 2020, been in place between the EU and US.
Full story: SLCC.co.uk
Council chiefs call for ‘urgent clarity’ about self-isolation scheme funding
Local authority leaders have called on the Government to clarify how already over-stretched councils will be reimbursed for the new self-isolation support scheme.
Over the weekend the Government announced that people with COVID-19 symptoms will be required by law from 28 September to self-isolate.
Those on lower incomes who cannot work from home will be supported by a £500 payment to help them through the 14-day isolation period.
Full story: LocalGov.co.uk
News roundup - 17 September 2020
274 councils set to receive housing support for vulnerable people
274 local councils will share £91.5 million of government funding to ensure interim accommodation and support for the most vulnerable people, including by helping people into the private rented sector, secure interim accommodation such as supported housing, and assess the wider support these people need in order to rebuild their lives.
An additional £13.5 million fund will be used to enable local authorities to tackle new or emerging challenges.
Full story: GOV.uk
Parents call on councils to improve school air quality
Parents and charities have called on local authorities to improve air quality at schools as research suggests a 50% reduction in pollution could halve the number of children with poor lung function.
New analysis by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) shows that if outdoor air pollution is halved, there could be up to a 20-50% reduction in the number of children with poor lung function across the UK and Republic of Ireland.
Full story: LocalGov.co.uk
SLCC National Conference Full Agenda Announced
The full agenda for this year’s unique Virtual National Conference has just been announced.
In an absolutely packed week, 12th – 16th October, members can find a session to explore every aspect of their work, whether your interest lies in neighbourhood planning, devolution or crisis management, there is something for everyone.
Full story: SLCC.co.uk
News roundup - 10 September 2020
Sector surprise at COVID marshal scheme
Local government has been blindsided by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that an army of COVID marshals will enforce tough new rules.
The MJ understands that Mr Johnson’s announcement that councils will be given tougher powers to tackle businesses flouting COVID-19 rules came out of the blue to senior managers and councillors, with Downing Street’s plan only raised with the Local Government Association (LGA) hours before.
Full story: LocalGov
Government should provide £500m arts resilience fund, says study
The Government should devolve power over arts funding to councils and make a resilience fund available to support art and culture in local areas, report says.
A new report published by the Fabian Society argues that a decade of Government cuts has led to a crisis in arts and culture funding and left the creative sector vulnerable to the lockdown.
It also calls for the devolution of power and funding over the arts so that councils and mayors can repair the damage caused by austerity and the pandemic.
Full story: LocalGov
DHSC offers free PPE but councils cast doubt over its promises
A Department of Health & Social Care pledge to provide free personal protective equipment to councils until 31 March next year has been met with scepticism from senior local government figures.
Full story: LGC
‘Toilet tax’ Bill clears Commons
The Bill to provide 100% mandatory relief from business rates for public lavatories in England and Wales has been passed by the House of Commons. The Bill still needs to be approved by the House of Lords but, If passed in its current form, the relief will be backdated to 1st April 2020.
The relief applies only to public lavatories which are currently rated as a separate ‘hereditament’, normally because they are a self-contained building. Amendments to extend the relief to lavatories contained in public buildings such as libraries and community centres were rejected.
Full story: SLCC
News roundup - 3 September 2020
£2 million fund for local action on air quality
New round of funding opens for Local Authorities to help clean up dirty air for communities.
Local Authorities can bid for a portion of at least £2 million for a wide range of projects to improve air quality and create cleaner and healthier environments.
Since it was established, the Air Quality Grant scheme has awarded around £64.5 million to a variety of projects benefitting schools, businesses and communities, and reducing the impact of dirty air on people’s health.
Ministers seek middle path on pavement parking
The Department for Transport (DfT) has published a consultation setting out three options to tackle the issue of pavement parking.
Officials said parking on pavements disproportionately affects people with visual or mobility impairments, those assisted by guide dogs, and wheelchair and mobility scooter users.
Districts hit back at proposals for creation of ‘Europe’s largest councils’
Plans to abolish district councils in favour of county unitaries have been blasted as “not devolution” but “centralisation” by the District Councils’ Network, which has warned proposals would create a “postcode lottery” in the value of each vote.
In anticipation of the launch of the government’s devolution and recovery white paper this month and following the pre-emptive bids by some county councils for unitaries covering their own council footprints, the DCN has launched a new report slamming proposals and offering their own alternatives.
Delivery companies to help map potholes
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has launched what his department called a first-of-its-kind audit into the mapping of potholes in England ‘to better target improvements so that roads are in top condition as people return to work and school’.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said it will work with highway data and mapping company Gaist alongside businesses such as Deliveroo, Uber, Tesco and Ocado, and local highway authorities to identify ‘pothole hot-spots’.
News roundup - 27 August 2020
Councils are commissioning the wrong type of website
We are all now fully aware that six weeks from now (by 23rd September 2020) all public bodies who do not meet the exemption criteria must have a website that complies with the WCAG 2.1AA accessibility guidelines.
Introducing these guidelines is a great initiative and means that the large numbers of those in communities who have difficulties or disabilities when it comes to using the internet will be able to better access the information to which they are entitled.
However, while the Government has issued a lot of information on the requirements of public bodies and their websites (which includes parish, town and city councils) it is all very technical and almost completely alien in its language to most clerks and the councillors.
Ministers urge councils to help ‘boost’ digital connectivity
Government ministers have today written to local authorities setting out how they can help boost gigabit broadband rollout and 5G mobile coverage.
Digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman and local government minister Simon Clarke urged councils to follow new Government advice on land access and valuations so deals granting access for new infrastructure, such as 5G masts and full fibre broadband cabinets on public land, can be reached ‘quicker and with reasonable rents attached.’
The Government has also shared new guidance on the safety and benefits of 5G so that councils can give people the facts and tackle disinformation about this new mobile technology.
Warning of ‘large gaps’ after income compensation scheme guidance published
Long awaited government guidance on its scheme to compensate local authorities for lost sales, fees and charges income has finally been published, but councils are warning it will still leave “large gaps” in budgets with particular concerns over leisure services.
Guidance on the scheme, announced by communities secretary Robert Jenrick in early July as part of a “comprehensive plan” for sustainable council finances in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, was finally published this week, although a draft had been widely circulated in recent weeks.
It confirmed that councils will be compensated for lost “transactional income” such as car parking and tourist attractions, but not commercial or residential rents or investment income, including from Treasury management.
UK council finances ‘hardest hit in Europe, claims Moody’s
UK local authorities are set to be hardest hit financially by the coronavirus among the five largest European economies says a report from Moody’s Investors Services.
The research estimates a shortfall of €77bn for local and regional government across the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy, with Spain and the UK facing the highest fiscal pressures. The report says: ‘Spanish regions and UK local authorities face relatively high spending pressures, moderate expected lost revenues and weak pre-pandemic fiscal performance.
Littering unpunished by many councils in England and Wales
Most councils issue less than one fine a week to litterers, according to data obtained via freedom of information rules, with one in six issuing no fines at all across a year.
Enforcement varied widely, with a handful of the councils in England and Wales issuing more than 100 a week.
Campaigners at Clean Up Britain said the level of littering was “shameful” and that enforcement of fines by councils should be made compulsory. They said the maximum on-the-spot fine of £150 was “derisory” and should be increased to £1,000.
News roundup - 13 August 2020
Funding boost to help communities plan their neighbourhoods
Housing secretary, Robert Jenrick MP has announced funding to help communities in urban and deprived areas plan their local neighbourhoods will almost double.
The government grants to individual neighbourhood planning groups in both urban and deprived areas will increase to £18,000, which follows the increase from £9,000 to £10,000 in May to help with the impacts of coronavirus.
The government also announced it is providing these groups with access to additional technical expertise free of charge, such as for assessing their area’s housing needs or developing masterplans.
Road safety charity launches £300,000 COVID-19 fund for local authorities
A £300,000 fund has been opened to help local authorities respond to changing road use and emerging road safety issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Launched by the Road Safety Trust, the fund will be open to applications on 15 September for five weeks. Each project will get between £20,000 and £50,000.
Councils awarded £40m to set up more home-to-school transport
Local authorities have been given a £40m funding boost to increase home-to-school transport provision from September.
Councils will use the money to set up new dedicated school and college transport to ensure pupils can travel to school safely during the pandemic, without putting extra pressure on public transport.
LGA calls for urgent investment into mental health for councils
The Local Government Association (LGA) has published a joint report today with the Centre for Mental Health, calling for urgent investment into mental health recovery in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This should come in the form of funding for councils to spend with local partners, including the voluntary and community sector for successful recovery planning, according to the report.
Schools reopening, workers returning from furlough, people who have been shielding and the economic and housing consequences will all have an impact on the wellbeing of residents.
Mental health problems currently cost UK employers £35bn a year in sickness absence, reduced productivity and staff turnover, this and further research has prompted the report to call for a ‘shift in national focus’ towards a locally-led approach to supporting mental wellbeing in people’s lives.
News roundup - 6 August 2020
Local government facing unprecedented cybersecurity threat
The threat of cyberattacks targeting local authorities has spiralled this year and has been compounded by increased homeworking during lockdown, a new report from the government-run National Cyber Security Centre has warned.
Call to scrap two-tier local government system in rural areas
The ‘confusing’ two-tier model of local government should be abolished and replaced with single unitary councils, a report has argued today.
Councils urge extension for grants support scheme
Fresh calls have been made for councils to be allowed to dole out to businesses the £1.6bn unspent from the Government’s small firms grant funds.
The calls come after the Government confirmed that local authorities should close their small business grants fund, the retail, hospitality and leisure grants fund and the discretionary grant fund by Friday August 28.
Councils call for adequate funding to tackle modern slavery
Council leaders have warned children’s services are under significant pressure after the number of child modern slavery referrals increased by 1,400% in five years.
The number of council referrals of suspected child victims of modern slavery in England to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) has risen from 127 in 2014 to 1,971 in 2019.
Children accounted for 91% of all referrals made by councils in 2019, according to the figures.
News roundup - 30 July 2020
England’s social care plans ‘need timetable and to be a radical rethink’
Ministers must publish a timetable for changes to social care before parliament returns in September and that their plans must envision a “radical rethink”, a coalition of councils and charities is demanding.
Any overhauled system for England must acknowledge “the importance of social care’s local dimension”, the coalition says in a clear warning against a centralised national care service modelled on the NHS or merger with it. The group said any proposals must not just be a funding change to save people from selling their homes to meet costs.
Majority of councils lack expertise to deal with flood risk, survey reveals
Local authorities are facing a critical shortage of the expertise needed to plan for climate change, a new survey has found.
The survey, conducted by the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA), found only 12% of local authorities strongly agree they have the skills and expertise needed to take account of flood risk now and in the future.
Councils welcome £2bn active transport ‘revolution’
Thousands of miles of new cycle routes will be built in towns and cities as part of the Prime Minister’s £2bn ‘cycling and walking revolution’.
Under the new measures, more cycle racks will also be installed at transport hubs, city centres and public buildings. More on-street storage and bike hangers will be provided for those people who don’t have space to keep a bike at home.
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