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News Headlines

 

Safeguarding Rule Changes Could Cost Councils £88m, Chiefs Warn

Changes to safeguarding rules for people in care could cost local authorities tens of millions, council chiefs and social service directors are warning.

With a recent Supreme Court judgement meaning thousands more people could require assessment under the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said the anticipated extra workload was likely to cost town halls at least £88m.

The set of rules is designed to ensure those who lack mental capacity are cared for in the least restrictive way possible.

In a letter to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, the LGA and ADASS warn the recent court decision could result in a ten-fold increase in additional assessments.

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New Online Hub for Social Value

Councils now have social value guidance at their fingertips thanks to a new free online hub.

The online portal aims to help councils take advantage of the Social Value Act to deliver improved public services and cost savings.

It aims to aggregate information and best practice from across all sectors, with practical how-to articles, case studies and videos.

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Disabled Hit Hardest by Spending Cuts, Says Equality Watchdog

Families with disabled people have been most affected by government’s spending cuts and tax and benefits changes since 2010, an analysis carried out for the Equality and Human Rights Commission has found.

According to the analysis undertaken by National Institute of Economic and Social Research and Landman Economics, low-income families also felt the impact of the government’s deficit reduction strategy.

The Cumulative Impact Assessment report said this was not surprising as there had been significant reductions to working-age welfare, including the introduction of a £26,00 annual cap and the so-called bedroom tax.

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Other Headlines

Call for Community Volunteers to Pay Less Council Tax

Community volunteers who help out in their local library or do charitable work should get discounts on their council tax bills, a new plan proposes.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said volunteers saved the public purse millions through their efforts and deserved some financial recognition.

It is urging the next government to give about 500,000 people in England and Wales a 10% annual rebate.

Community groups would help councils to identify who should qualify.

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New Homes Bonus Leaves North Worse Off, Research Suggests

Poor northern councils are worse off thanks to flagship Government policy the New Homes Bonus, research suggests.

While local authorities in London, the Southeast and East Anglia have benefited from £177m more than they would have done without the house building scheme, analysis by The Financial Times suggests those in the north and Midlands have comparatively lost out.

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'Tesco Tax' Will Cause Price Hikes, Retailers say

A controversial proposal for a £400m ‘Tesco Tax’ has been criticised by business leaders who say it will drive up prices while leaving the “onerous” business rates regime untouched.

Helen Dickinson, director general of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said the tax would punish investment and cost jobs without reforming a system which is “no longer fit for purpose”.

The plan, drawn up by a group of 20 councils led by Derby City, would see large supermarkets taxed to pay for improvements to local shopping areas – as they already are in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

But Ms Dickinson was joined by John Rogers, chief financial officer of Sainsbury’s, and John Allan, the chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), in claiming it failed to address fundamental problems.

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Local Government Can No Longer Act Like 'Putin's Russia', Says Pickles

A new law that comes into force next week, allowing council meetings to be filmed, will move Britain away from a local government system characteristic of "Putin's Russia" and will revolutionise how the public views councillors, according to Eric Pickles.

The Communities Secretary condemned the current system, under which, in recent weeks, police have been called to chambers to throw the press and public out of meetings for attempting to tweet or record proceedings. He said the new rules, which will be implemented in early August under the Local Audit and Accountability Act, will unlock the mysteries of local government, providing more transparency over how councils use taxpayers' money.

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Primary Schools Build Over Playgrounds to Accommodate Rising Pupil Numbers

Hundreds of primary schools are building over playgrounds and playing fields in order to accommodate growing numbers of pupils.

Play areas are being cut back at schools across the country as local authorities build additional classroom space to cope with an increasing demand for school places, a study shows.

Campaigners said the research showed that government measures to protect playing fields were failing to stop schools building over outdoor areas.

They argue that having time and space to play improves the physical and mental health of children, as well as helping them mix with other pupils and develop their imagination and creativity.

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Council Tax Rises Hit Britain’s Poor Hardest

More than two million of the poorest people in England are facing rising council tax demands this year because of fresh Government cuts to the benefit system, new figures reveal today. War widows, carers and the disabled are among 2.31 million people who used to be entitled to council tax benefit but have now had their support substantially reduced or taken away altogether.

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Strikes to Hit Councils Again

Council and school support staff will strike again later this year as part of continuing demonstrations over pay.

Around a million public service workers are thought to have taken part in national protests on 10 July against the 1% increase in pay offered by local government employers.

Unison has now revealed a further walk out will take place in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on Tuesday 30 November.

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LA Expenditure and Financing England 2014-15 Budget

DCLG has published their Statistical Release "Local Authority Revenue Expenditure and Financing England 2014-15 Budget". The information in this statistical release is derived from Revenue Account (RA) budget returns submitted by all local authorities in England.

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Care Homes in Funding Warning

Come home operators have warned they will need to cut staff as council funding is reduced.

Research by The National Care Forum found fees being paid by councils were ‘well below’ the amount needed to keep pace with cost inflation.

The forum said the overall picture was ‘bleak’ and there was a ‘remorseless pressure on margins’.

It added that it would be a ‘matter of survival for homes with high exposure to council funding’ until the end of the decade.

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Bill Aims to Guarantee Council Autonomy

A Bill to enshrine local government’s independence in statute is being launched at the House of Commons.

The Local Government Independence Bill, which is being sponsored by Labour MP Graham Allen, declares separation between central and local government and their respective finances and makes local authorities constitutionally responsible to their local electorates rather than Whitehall.

It also statutorily bars Whitehall from interfering in local financial matters and capping council tax bills, for example.

While the Bill allows councils the freedom to borrow against their credit rating, it requires them to operate a balance budget.

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Major Cities Launch New Push for Devolution

England’s eight largest cities will launch a major campaign demanding more financial freedoms for the country’s key urban areas.

The Core Cities – consisting of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield – claim stronger powers over locally generated money would help them add £222bn to the UK economy by 2030.

Aiming to demonstrate how residents would benefit from greater devolution to the Core Cities, the Local Voices campaign will add to mounting calls for more metropolitan freedom.

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Council's Hotel Deal is First in UK

Hackney LBC hopes to generate £100,000 in the first year for a new community fund after striking an innovative deal with hotels in the borough.

Under the scheme, hotel guests will be asked if they want to pay an extra £1 on top of their bill.

It is thought that the hotel community fund, which will be spent on the likes of training and employment schemes, cultural events and improvements to public spaces, is the first of its kind in the UK.

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Councils cut services, not salaries: Two Thirds Have Ignored Government's Pleas for Pay Restraint and Reduced Spending on Libraries or Retirement Homes Instead

Most council bosses have defied government demands for pay restraint by handing out huge salaries while cutting services.

Around 61 per cent of councils paid their biggest earners more than the Prime Minister, who receives £142,500 a year.

Since 2011, six out of ten councils have raised its highest paid official’s salary - despite calls for belt-tightening as the economy begins to recover.

It will raise concerns that public sector bodies still ‘do not get’ the need to rein in profligate spending as Britain continues to drag itself out of recession.

Among the highest-paying 20 councils, only five reduced their top salary after ministers called for more austerity.

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Local Audit Plans Could Place ‘Much Greater Burden’ on Councils

Auditors have slammed plans to reform how parish councils are held to account, branding Government proposals overly ‘complex’.

In a letter sent to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) today, the Audit Commission urged ministers to rethink planned changes to local audit regulations for parish councils.

The watchdog said moves to force local bodies to appoint an auditor would raise costs and place ‘a much greater burden’ on town halls.

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Schools Given Extra £390m in Bid to Make Funding Fairer Nationwide

Schools are to be handed almost £400m more as part of a government attempt to make funding fairer, but headteachers have warned that increasing costs mean many are unlikely to be better off.

In a written statement, schools minister David Laws said £390m is to be spent on increasing the budgets of local areas that previously received low funding.

He insisted that no other local council's per-pupil funding will be reduced from its current level.

Laws said: "This £390m increase – £40m more than was announced in March – is the biggest step toward fairer schools funding in a decade, and will go a long way to removing the historical unfairness of the funding system.

"Crucially, we have ensured no local authority will see a reduction in its budget, while 69 local authorities will get a cash boost."

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County Council Leader Refuses 59% Allowance Hike

A 59% allowance rise has been turned down by Surrey County Council leader David Hodge during a dramatic meeting of the full council.

Councillors voted through the increase in Hodge’s special responsibility allowance earlier this year, in a move that would have raised the sum from £27,000 to £43,000.

All three members of the town hall’s independent remuneration panel (IRP) resigned following the vote, having recommended limiting the increases at £35,538.

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Reshuffle: Who's In and Out and Who's Moved Jobs

Education Secretary Michael Gove is to become the new chief whip in the most wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle of David Cameron's premiership.

He has been replaced by Treasury minister Nicky Morgan, as Mr Cameron promotes more women into top jobs.

Ken Clarke is among the old guard to have stood down and Foreign Secretary William Hague has moved to a lower profile role as Commons leader.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has taken over at the foreign office.

A string of retirements were announced overnight, with their replacements being unveiled during the course of the morning.

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Council Benefits and Tax Complaints on the Rise

Complaints about handling of benefits and tax by England’s councils rose by over a quarter last year, figures have revealed.

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) said disputes and enquires about these issues rose by 26% in 2013/14, while complaints about local authority adult social care increased by 16%.

Council chiefs said such rises were ‘unsurprising’ given growing budgetary pressures and service demand.

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West Sussex First to Publish Real Time Performance Data

West Sussex County Council has become the first local authority to give residents open access to its performance data.

The new software will allow people to find out how the council is performing against its key targets in almost real time. The information can then be integrated with other websites and social media feeds.

Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council, said: ‘Moving from paper to digital and giving residents the opportunity to see our performance at the same time as we do opens our accountability and gives us a very visual way of explaining how and what we’re doing for our residents and communities, where and how we are spending the council tax. It’s very much in line with our agenda to be more transparent and open."

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Trade Union Manifesto Calls for ‘Fairer’ Council Funding

Unison will launch its public services manifesto with a call for more financial freedoms and ‘fairer’ funding for local government.

Due to be presented to all mainstream political parties over the coming months, the document will demand ‘a complete change of direction’ surrounding privatisation and outsourcing.

The trade union is also calling for assurances that public services receive adequate funding, alongside ‘a renewed commitment’ to the public service workforce.

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Councils Spend More on Recycling than Building Homes

Councils spend more on recycling than on new homes but are still "wasting" about £60 per household by failing to collect many reusable products, a report has claimed. The UK loses £1.7 billion a year due to disjointed and outdated measures for recycling food, plastics and electronics which sees a huge amount of valuable reusable rubbish sent to landfill, the study by the Green Alliance think tank revealed.

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Schools Raiding Their Own Budgets to Fund Clegg's Free Lunches

Schools in some parts of the country are having to raid their own budgets to pay for Nick Clegg’s plan to give four to seven-year-old pupils free meals.

Freedom of Information figures suggest nearly a third of councils cannot afford to provide free school lunches for infants from September.

In some areas, schools themselves could have to pay towards the expensive kitchen and dining room upgrades needed to deliver the policy.

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Further Council Strikes 'Not Ruled Out' by Union

Unison has failed to rule out further strike action over local government pay, emphasising its main concern remains negotiation with employers.

More than one million public service workers are thought to have attended protests against a pay rise offer of 1%.

A spokesperson for the union told LocalGov: ‘We are not ruling out further strike action but our overwhelming priority is getting employers back to the table for negotiations.’

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Pension Reforms Won't Tackle Deficit Says Association

The Government needs a ‘more intelligent’ approach to the reform of the Local Government Pension Scheme, according to the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF).

In response to the consultation on pension reforms, NAPF said the Government is focusing too narrowly on oversimplified cost savings rather than on how pension funds can secure liabilities and reduce deficits.

While NAPF welcomed the move towards passive investment strategies and collective investment vehicles (CIVs), the association said the savings achieved would only represent a tiny proportion of the LGPS’s £47bn deficit.

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Public Could See Value of Council Assets for First Time

Councils may be required to publish details of what their social housing stock is worth each year, under new measures to increase transparency.

Under the plans, members of the public will be able to see the value of the assets held by councils for the first time. The plan is for residents to use this information to question whether councils are effectively managing their social housing stock.

Housing minister Kris Hopkins said: ‘I want people to have confidence that their councils are managing the valuable resource of social housing properly, and ensuring the needs of the most vulnerable in their communities are being met.

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Row over Call to Give More Tax Powers to English Cities

Boris Johnson has backed calls by a group of MPs to give English cities more control over tax money.

Leaders of cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and London should have the same power as politicians in Scotland and Wales, the local government committee said in a report.

The London mayor said ministers "could not ignore" the "excellent" findings.

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MPs Call For English Devolution

In a report looking at whether devolution was needed in England, MPs said combined authorities – being established to cover economic areas – should be given control of business rates, stamp duty, council tax and levy other taxes and charges.

Communities and local government committee chair Clive Betts said ‘fiscal devolution in England is an idea whose moment has arrived’.

He added: ‘The starting point was the London Finance Commission report, backed by the support of the eight core cities.

‘Now the Chancellor George Osborne is arguing forcefully about the need to decentralise power to boost economic growth, while Lord Adonis’ review makes a powerful case for the devolution of more powers to local government.’

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First Local Government Bond Issue Set for Next Spring

The first issue of municipal bond is set to go ahead next spring after the Local Government Association confirmed it had raised more than seven times the necessary funding to launch the agency.

Outgoing LGA chair Sir Merrick Cockell confirmed at the association’s annual conference that the agency, which is intended to lower borrowing costs for town halls by as much as £1.45bn over 30 years, had raised the initial funding required.

After approving the scheme in March, the LGA set a target of raising £400,000 to set up the bond issuer, which would issue bonds and then in turn lend this money to councils.

Cockell announced that commitments worth £2.9m to form the agency had so far been raised for 22 councils, of all types and from different parts of the country.

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Give Councils Oversight of all Schools, Says LGA

The Local Government Association has called on the next government to create local education trusts to drive school improvement across England and end the confusion over accountability following the coalition’s controversial reforms.

Setting out its priorities ahead of the next general election, the LGA said today local trusts should replace the current two-tier structure, which sees around 3,500 academies and free schools accountable to the Department for Education and its Education Funding Agency, with the remainder the responsibility of local government.

David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said the oversight system for free schools and academies lacked the necessary capacity and local knowledge.

Councils are still responsible for the 84% of schools that are not academies or free schools, but they lack adequate powers to hold all schools to account and work together, he said.

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Cuts Reduce Social Care for Britain’s Elderly by a Third

The number of adults receiving state-provided care has dropped by almost a third following cuts to council budgets. Official figures released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre reveal 500,000 fewer people had received care in the past five years.

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NHS Chief Announces Plan to Give Patients Cash to Fund their Own Care

Billions of pounds of health service and town hall budgets are to be handed over to the most vulnerable patients to purchase health and social care services in the community, in a dramatic change of policy being unveiled by the NHS's new boss.

Frail elderly people, disabled children and those with serious mental illness or learning disabilities will from next April be offered individual pots of money to spend as they see fit on health and social care services such as carers, physiotherapists and psychotherapy sessions, in an attempt, in part, to keep them out of hospital.

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Miliband Pledges Billions for Councils

Billions of pounds will be devolved to councils if Labour wins next year’s election, leader Ed Miliband has pledged.

Launching the final report of the party’s Local Government Innovation Taskforce on a visit to Stevenage today, Mr Miliband also backed long-term funding settlements so councils could plan ahead and a new system of checks and balances, with a statutory requirement for local authorities to set up a public accounts committee with powers to scrutinise value for money for all services in their area.

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LGA Pitches for Share of Fuel Duty Revenue

Ahead of its annual conference this week, the Local Government Association said that 2p per litre of the current 57.95 pence per litre fuel tax should be allocated to town halls to spend on road maintenance.

Peter Box, chair of the LGA’s economy and transport board, said that this would allow the current backlog of repairs – estimated at £12bn – to be completed within a decade.

‘Tackling this ever-growing national repair bill must be a priority and the government can do this by injecting an extra £1bn a year into roads maintenance, funded by investing 2p a litre from existing fuel duty,’ he said.

He said this should not be applied as an increase in duty, which has been frozen since March 2011, but instead taken from the current revenue to support vital maintenance.

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DfE Under Fire Over Proposed Cuts to Councils' Education Services Grant

Planned cuts of £200 million to council education services will hit efforts to revive failing schools, and serve to push maintained schools into becoming academies, local government leaders claim. The LGA is protesting to the Department for Education over the cut being proposed to the education services grant, saying the reductions will harm the school improvement sections of councils. Cllr David Simmonds, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Mums and dads need to know that whatever type of school their child goes to, it will be subject to rigorous challenge to ensure high standards.”

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War Launched on Council Waste

A roadshow designed to ‘expose wasteful and inefficient spending by local authorities across the country’ will be launched at an event in Westminster today.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance campaign group’s War on Waste Roadshow will stop at 29 towns and cities across England and Wales over nine days.

A spokesman for the group, which aims to hold councils responsible for what they spend, said: ‘For too long, local authorities have wasted taxpayers’ money, keeping taxes too high and diverting precious resources away from frontline services.

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Public ‘Not Noticing Impact of Council Cuts’

Nearly two-thirds of people say that they have seen no real change in council services despite reductions in local authority funding as part of the coalition government’s deficit reduction plan, a poll has found.

According to the survey by insurers Zurich Municipal and Ipsos MORI, 63% of people said they had not noticed any difference to their council services, despite almost all local authorities introducing major changes, including reduction in some services, in response to budget pressures. The Local Government Association has highlighted that central government funding for councils will have been cut by 40% between 2010/11 and the end of 2014/15.

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Whitehall Grants Uncoordinated, Auditors Warn

Whitehall’s grant-making activities are not well co-ordinated and there is no central register of those currently in operation, the National Audit Office has said.

Grant spending makes up 41% (£292bn) of the £715bn total government expenditure and can be used to fund elements of the public sector including local authorities, bodies such as universities and charities, and individuals such as students. Grants can also be used to provide finance to commercial organisations to boost economic activity, such as through the Coastal Communities Fund.

However, auditors concluded that government gives the funding mechanism relatively little attention compared to others.

NAO head Amyas Morse said grants should not be the default funding option as other alternatives may offer better value for money.

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Brighton and Hove Plans 5.9% Council Tax Hike for 2015

A 5.9% council tax rise has been proposed by Brighton and Hove City Council’s minority Green administration.

The move comes just months after local Labour and Conservative councillors quashed plans for a 4.75% council tax rise.

Plans for the levy hike form part of council efforts to recoup a £25m budget shortfall over the coming year.

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Local Government Finance: CIPFA Speech

Secretary of State's speech at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

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Council Finance Broken, Local Government Chief Says

LGA Chair-elect Cllr David Sparks has called for councils to be given more power to help redesign the totally broken local government finance system, including the ability to keep a bigger share of rates and taxes. In his first national interview before becoming the first LGA Labour Chair for a decade, he said: "We need to ensure that the financial system, that supports local government, is fit for purpose. At the moment it's totally broken. We need to ensure that we're not talking about the 19th century model of local government, but we're talking about the 21st century. Politics, people, society - everything has changed, and local government needs to change as well."

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New Fund to Help Councils Fight Fraud

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles today (2 July 2014) announced a new multi-million pound fund to help councils claw back the taxpayers’ money lost every year to fraud.

Mr Pickles is also urging Town Halls to “turn idle assets into money” to protect front line services. The government is allowing councils to use money raised from the sale of assets, such as empty buildings and redundant brownfield land, to help pay for the costs of improving local services and to keep Council Tax down.

In a speech to council finance chiefs, the Local Government Secretary challenged councils to use innovative financial management to address fraud, surplus assets and Council Tax collection. Taking such an approach would help local authorities make the sensible savings needed over the next few years to help reduce the deficit inherited from the last administration.

The Secretary of State pointed out that even though Council Tax collection rates remain high, the billions that go uncollected each year, much like the money lost to fraud, places an unfair extra burden on honest, hard-working taxpayers.

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Heseltine Dismisses LEPs Concerns

The coalition’s growth guru Lord Heseltine has dismissed concerns about local enterprise partnerships’ (LEP) lack of accountability.

Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine and cities minister Greg Clark have just decided how much each LEP is to be given from the Local Growth Fund, an annual £2bn pot of government money.

But responding to criticism of the move in an interview with a national newspaper, the 81-year-old Conservative peer said: ‘There cannot be a LEP bid without sign-up from local authorities.

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MPs Support Complete Reform of Business Rates System

The majority of MPs believe the current business rates system is ‘not fit for purpose' according to research by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The poll found that 80% of MPs want the system to undergo 'fundamental reform', with 93% agreeing that 'reform of business rates is an important area for the future success of the high street and town centres'. 

The BRC is calling for the complete reform of the business rates system by 2017 and is urging all party leaders to commit to reform in the run up to the 2015 General Election.

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Labour Pledges to Cut Business Rates

A Labour government would cut and freeze business rates for more than 1.5 million properties, shadow chancellor Ed Balls has revealed.

The move would be part of a package of measures to create a competitive tax system in Britain that is viewed by companies as ‘a great place to do business, not simply a cheap place to shift their profits’.

He said Labour would maintain current levels of corporation tax and instead focus its attentions on business rates. ‘When resources are tight this is a tough choice to allow us to support more businesses and keep our overall business tax regime competitive,’ he added.

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LGA Reveals Extent of Council Funding ‘Black Hole’

Councils must find 12.5% of savings by next year to fill a £5.8bn ‘black hole’ in funding, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

Analysis by the LGA shows the funding gap across local government is predicted to grow by £2.1bn a year, reaching £12.4bn by 2019.

Adult social care alone is expected to see a £1.9bn shortfall by 2015-16. Successful integration of health and social care – with the new Better Care Fund (BCF) at its heart – ‘is vital to save the care system from collapsing’, it said.

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Councils to be forced to empty bins every week

Local authorities could be legally forced to empty black bins every week if the Tories win next year’s election. Ministers have decided to act after attempts to pay councils to reinstate weekly collections seemingly failed. Under the new pledge, councils would be required to meet a “minimum service standard” when it came to waste collection, which would reinstate the previous legal requirements for councils to collect rubbish weekly. An LGA spokesman said: “Our own polling shows about 80 per cent of people are happy with the way their bins are collected. Satisfaction rates are broadly the same regardless of whether people have weekly or alternate collections.”

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Cambridge Tops Business Growth League Table

The city of Cambridge is the best place for business growth in the UK according to a new league table.

The Small Business Outlook, conducted each year by the Centre for Cities, highlights the cities with the largest number of SMEs investing in high-growth strategies including pursuing innovation, training and operating in competitive markets.

Cambridge topped the poll with a strategy score of 59.6%, closely followed by Edinburgh at 57.2% and Brighton at 56.8%.

Blackpool, Liverpool and Rochdale ranked much lower coming bottom of the table at 38.3%, 37.5% and 36.9% demonstrating that the cities hardest hit during the recession had fewer firms adopting high-growth strategies, and are still behind in areas such as employment and productivity.

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Local Services Support Grant: 2014-15 Allocations

Letter to local councils about how much Local Services Support Grant they will get in 2014 to 2015.

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Double Yellow Line ‘Grace Period’ Plans ‘Dropped’

The Local Government Association has welcomed what it calls a "victory" against plans to allow drivers to park on double yellow lines for 10-15 minutes without getting a ticket. Mail Online had reported double yellow “grace periods” were being “quietly dropped” after a consultation but the Government has denied that it ever planned to offer such grace periods. An LGA spokesman said: “We are pleased to see that the communities secretary has listened to the LGA, which has consistently lobbied against plans to allow motorists a 'grace period' to park on double yellow lines. This is a victory for common sense.”

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LGA and CIPFA Challenge Council Liability Figures

The Taxpayers’ Alliance has been criticised by councils and CIPFA after the group published an examination of town hall finances that found authorities had liabilities of more than £180bn.

The group’s Council liabilities report said the total liabilities at March 31 2013 represented an increase of 8% on the year before. The liabilities are made up of commitments within the funded Local Government Pension Scheme as well as almost £72bn of borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board and other sources.

However, responding to the report, the Local Government Association said that to simply state the total liabilities of town halls was ‘misleading’. According to the report, only 62 local authorities have long-term liabilities equal to or more than the value of their long-term assets. An LGA spokesman said: ‘Unlike central government, councils can’t borrow money to meet their day-to-day running costs.

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Councils Considering Selling Off Local Parks, Report Finds

Almost half of councils are considering selling local parks according to a new report from the Heritage Lottery Fund which highlights the growing risk to the UK’s public green spaces.

The report, the first to comprehensively review the condition and management of public parks, also revealed that 81% of council parks departments have lost skilled management staff since 2010 and 77% have lost front-line staff.

However, the report also showed that the condition of public spaces has improved, as has their perceived importance by the public with 34 million people making regular trips to their local parks.

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Councils Say Social Value Act is Improving Service Delivery

Local authorities say that delivering social value has led to better service delivery, cost savings and improved community relations, according to a new report.

Communities Count: the Four Steps to Unlocking Social Value, published by Social Enterprise UK, found that 71% of local authorities and housing associations believe the Social Value Act has led to better service delivery. Over half (52%) said it had also led to cost savings, with 82% reporting it has improved the image of their organisation.

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Councils' Liabilities Soar to £180bn claims New Report

Local authorities have long-term borrowings totalling £180bn and risk burdening future generations with debt, according to new research from the TaxPayers Alliance.

The research found large disparities in the size of councils' liabilities and the amount they are borrowing, even among similar authorities in the same region of the country.

The largest debt lies with Birmingham City Council with over £6bn in liabilities, according to the research, and Scottish councils have an average of almost £4,200 of liabilities per resident.

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Local Roads Given ‘At Risk’ Assessment in Study

The quality of Britain’s local road network and transport links came under attack last night in a wide-ranging analysis of the nation’s infrastructure.

The Institution of Civil Engineers also raised fears about the country’s ability to cope with a repeat of this year’s widespread flooding.

On a scale of A to E, local transport was given a D- rating in a report from the institution, meaning it was assessed as being “at risk”.

Flood management and energy were both given a “requires attention” C- rating, while waste services were assessed as C+.

Water and major transport schemes were given “adequate for now” B ratings.

The institution warned it would be increasingly difficult to keep roads open and maintain transport links in future spells of extreme weather.

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School Admissions: 4,000 Pupils 'Fail to Get Primary Place'

Almost 4,000 infants have been left without the offer of a primary school for September amid a surge in demand for places this year, official figures show.

A rise in the birth rate combined with an influx of migrants has resulted in large numbers of five-year-olds being forced to accept unwanted schools, it emerged.

Data from the Department for Education shows that almost 77,000 schoolchildren in England – 12.3 per cent – failed to secure places at their first choice primary school for September.

Figures show that more than 22,400 pupils – 3.6 per cent – missed out on any school named by parents on their application form. This can range from three to six schools depending on their council area.

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Council Spending Freedoms ‘Restricting Value-for-Money Judgements’

Government moves to increase the flexibility that councils have over spending Whitehall grants have made it more difficult to assess the value of town hall spending, the National Audit Office said today.

Publishing an assurance statement on local government funding to Parliament, the NAO said changes at the 2010 Spending Review gave local authorities more control over their spending by removing ringfences from funding allocations.

Overall, eight Whitehall departments gave local authorities a total of £36.1bn in 2013/14 to support the delivery of their statutory duties and core functions. Of this, more than two-thirds (£25bn) was through unringfenced general grants, where the only expectation is that how authorities spend the funding lawfully. A further £7.8bn (22%) was paid in unringfenced but targeted grants, where departments expect, but cannot require, town halls to spend the money on a specific activity.

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Betts Calls for Consistent Measure of Council Cuts

Greater transparency over the impact of government cuts on council funding is needed and ministers must stick to an agreed measure of local authority spending power, the chair of the House of Commons’ communities and local government select committee has said.

Clive Betts said that a consistent measure was needed to enable proper public scrutiny of local authority finances.

Betts had previously made a formal complaint to the statistics watchdog over Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim that future local government spending would fall by only 2.3% in 2015/16. This is despite the Spending Review statement setting out details of a 10% cut.

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Stop Inventing Council Spending Stats, Government Told

The Government has been accused of inventing new measures for council spending to back up ministers’ arguments and gloss over cutbacks.

Clive Betts, chair of the CLG select committee, said ministers had failed to clarify calculations in the Spending Round that showed a 2.3% real terms fall in local government expenditure over the next two years.

Using the DCLG’s agreed measure of council spending power the figure would have been 3.3%, rising to 7.1% if the new Better Care Fund was taken out of the equation.

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Councils Failing to Allocate Welfare Support Funds

Local authorities failed to pay out more than £20m to people affected by welfare reforms, according to figures released by the Government.

The figures shows that around two-thirds (63%) of councils paid out less than their total Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) allocation to tenants, with three-quarters of councils not applying for a £20m government top up fund.

Minister for welfare reform, Lord Freud, said: 'We tripled support for vulnerable people to £180m last year to ensure the right help was in place during our far-reaching welfare reforms and it is good to see that people have benefited from that support as they adapt to the changes.'

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Pay Living Wage to One Million More Workers, Commission Says

Providing the Living Wage to one million more workers by 2020 should be a Government priority, a commission of businesses and anti-poverty groups claim.

The Living Wage Commission said the cost of raising pay for almost 500,000 public sector workers to £7.65 and hour - £8.80 in London – could be met by higher tax revenues and lower in work benefits provided to private sector employees also bought up to the Living Wage.

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Coalition Faces Huge Strike as Biggest Unions Ballot Council Workers

The government is this week facing up to the prospect of the biggest strike since the coalition came to office amid growing anger over pay restraint in the public sector.

The UK's biggest trade unions are balloting hundreds of thousands of council workers in England and Wales in protest at an offer worth 1% for most staff.

Unison will announce the result of its ballot on Monday, followed by GMB and Unite over the next week.

The Public and Commercial Services union is also balloting its members for a strike in a long-running dispute over cuts in the civil service, with the result due by the end of the month.

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Budget Devolution Key to Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’

Chancellor George Osborne has said he wanted to ‘start a conversation’ about a new model of city government that would see greater devolution of budgets to local level.

Delivering a speech in Manchester, the chancellor set out his vision for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, backed by stronger local powers.

‘A true powerhouse requires true power,’ Osborne said.

‘So today I am putting on the table and starting the conversation about serious devolution of powers and budgets for any city that wants to move to a new model of city government – and have an elected mayor. A mayor for Greater Manchester, a mayor for Leeds, with powers similar to the mayor of London.’

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Watchdogs Consult on Integrated Child Protection Inspections

Public service inspectorates are seeking views on how they can work together to assess what local agencies are doing to help children and young people.

Under proposals published today, from April 2015, Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, the Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Inspectorate of Probation and, where appropriate, the Inspectorate of Prisons, will carry out a targeted programme of integrated inspections.

Partner inspectorates will work alongside each other examining the effectiveness of local authorities, health, police, probation and other services in helping to protect and care for children and young people. Each inspectorate will make a separate judgement about the specialist professional contribution of the services they inspect. They will also issue a judgement on the local safeguarding board, which will be a shared judgement among the inspectorates.

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Council Staff Vote for Strike Action

Unison members have voted in favour of strike action over the ongoing pay dispute.

The ballot of local government workers shows 58.7% are in favour of strike action. The trade union said it would now be discussing next steps with its members.

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National Union of Teachers' Strike Set for 10 July

Schools in England and Wales face disruption next month, as the National Union of Teachers says it will take strike action on 10 July, along with other public sector unions.

Christine Blower, the union's general secretary, said it was a "last resort".

"For teachers, performance related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and heavy workload for 60 hours a week, is unsustainable," she said.

The Department for Education said there was "no justification" for striking.

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Fresh Coalition row as Lib Dems Clash with Think Tank over Education Spending

A new row has broken out inside the Coalition over education, with a Conservative think tank claiming that Nick Clegg’s spending plans do not add up.

Policy Exchange, which was founded by the Education Secretary Michael Gove in 2002, said the Liberal Democrats’ plans to safeguard an extra £10bn of education spending would cost £2bn in the 2015-20 parliament and could mean damaging cuts in other departments.

On Monday, Mr Clegg announced plans to extend the ring-fence which protects the schools budget to spending on 16-19 year-olds and provision for two-to-four year-olds.

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Councils Promise to Fill 3 Million Pot Holes

Councils have pledged to fill more than 3 million potholes to receive allocations from the government’s £168m Potholes Challenge Fund, the Department for Transport has announced.

Ministers invited bids for the funding, which was first announced in Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget, in April, calling for councils to set out how many potholes they would fix.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has announced that a total of 148 authorities applied for funding and all will receive a share, having committed to repair more than 3 million holes.

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Audit Commission Highlights ‘Inaccurate’ Grant Claims

The Audit Commission has called on councils to improve the quality of claims made for Whitehall grants or subsidies after finding one-third of all returns were qualified in 2012/13, including 78% of those for housing and council tax benefit.

In an examination of the claims made by local government to Whitehall to meet the costs of national benefits administered locally, the commission also said it was disappointing the trend had worsened since 2009/10.

According to the commission’s figures, auditors issued a qualification letter in around 35% of the 1,023 claims and returns made by councils for 2012/13 in respect of seven grant or subsidy schemes.

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Pickles Attacks ‘Stalinist’ Media Guidance for Councils

Rules that bar councillors from speaking to the press without permission have been blasted as ‘Stalinist’ by local government secretary, Eric Pickles.

Pickles has hit out at guidance issued by the National Association of Local Councils that calls on councils to regulate contact between councillors and journalists. It includes preventing journalists from contacting councillors directly and councillors needing to obtain written consent from the council before speaking to the press.

Pickles said the guidance was ‘completely inappropriate’ and is calling on parish councils to ignore the new media policy.

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Labour Reveals Plans to Devolve Welfare and Housing Powers

Ed Miliband will set out Labour Party plans for devolving more powers to councils and communities over welfare and house building.

Alongside wide-reaching reforms to out of work benefits, the Labour leader will outline plans to empower local authorities and residents to tackle issues driving up welfare spending.

‘We cannot bring the change we need simply by pulling levers at the centre by relying on Whitehall and Westminster. We can only do it by devolving power drawing on the expertise of the British people themselves,’ Miliband is expected to say.

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Public Sector Says Staff are Biggest Data Threat

Employees pose the biggest threat to public data, according to a new survey into security.

The research, conducted by PHS Data Solutions, found that the majority of people (83%) said the biggest concern for data was internal loss or misuse, with only 10% worried about the external threat posed by hackers.

The survey also revealed that despite these concerns only 18% use a secure managed off-site records facility, with a fifth (21%) relying on staff to dispose of documents.

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Part-Time Council Staff Facing ‘All Out Assault’ on Conditions

Part-time council and school staff are being ‘exploited’ and ‘overworked’ as a result of government cuts, Unison has warned.

Findings from a survey of more than 2,600 part time workers in local government and education reveal 39% of respondents work up to two hours of unpaid overtime each week, with almost 10% working five to ten additional hours for no pay.

One fifth of respondents to the Unison survey said they were covering the work of a redundant or vacant post alongside their own job.

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Protection Call for Children's Centres

A charity boss has called for Sure Start children’s centres to be protected by law with early years funding ring fenced.

Chief executive of 4Children, Anne Longfield, spoke after education minister Elizabeth Truss backed children’s centres during a hearing of the education committee.

One million families regularly use the centres, according to research by the charity.

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Council Cuts ‘Devastating’ Women’s Lives, Poll Finds

Local government funding cuts have left women ‘fearing for their safety’, according to a survey.

A Unison poll of 7,550 UK women found over a third were concerned for their wellbeing as a direct result of cuts to council services, with more than half thinking local services had got worse in the last year.

Some 71% of respondents said street repairs had deteriorated, while 60% of leisure centre and park users thought their quality had declined.

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Commission Calls for Greater Fairness in Spending Decisions

There should be greater transparency in future spending reviews to ensure decisions made by government are 'fair to everyone', according to a new report.

The report, published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, found that while a 'serious effort' has been made to calculate the impact of decisions on particular groups of people, more could be done to analyse the likely effects of policy changes.

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Shared Services Drive from East England Councils

Shared services should ‘be the way forward’ in the east of England if councils are to effectively face budget restrictions.

Chairman of the East of England Local Government Association (LGA), Cllr Tony Jackson, encouraged town halls to commit to joint working.

While Cotswold, Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire District Councils and Cheltenham Borough Council recently revealed plans for ‘the most radical joint working approach in local government’, Jackson emphasised it was instead councils in the east of England that were ‘leading the way’ on innovative service delivery.

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Winter Floods could Batter England again if Cuts not Reversed, MPs Warn

The devastating floods of last winter could hit England again unless government funding cuts to flood defence budgets are reversed, MPs warned environment secretary Owen Paterson.

“Overall funding does not reflect the increased flood risk” being driven by climate change, the MPs' report found, while money for the maintenance of rivers and flood defences was at the “bare minimum”. The coalition imposed a 25% cut on flood defence spending on entering office in 2010.

MPs praised the government's “money is no object” relief efforts led by David Cameron, but said cost-cutting on defences was a false economy, leading to the misery of flooding and millions being spent on emergency action, rather than investment in flood prevention.

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Auditors Criticise Management of Local PFI Waste Schemes

The management of three local authority-led Private Finance Initiative waste projects has been criticised by government auditors for a lack of clarity.

The National Audit Office examined the contract oversight provided by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in PFI contracts entered into and managed by Surrey County Council, Norfolk County Council and, jointly, by Herefordshire and Worcestershire County Council.

Auditors found that all three projects had been plagued by significant delays because of difficulties obtaining planning permission, complex commercial considerations, opposition from local groups and uncertainty over technology.

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Public Concerned Outsourcing Providers are ‘Cutting Corners’

Commissioners are failing to ensure ethical standards are upheld in outsourced public services, according to a new report published.

The research, published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, found that while the public felt it was imperative that ethical standards should be maintained in any outsourcing contract, concerns remain that providers would “cut corners” to save money or achieve payment by results targets.

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Single Local Government Website ‘Ill-Conceived’

A single website for all of local government is an ‘ill-conceived’ idea and should not be attempted, according to an association for IT professionals.

Socitm said the idea to create one website for all councils may seem attractive but the concept is actually ‘deeply flawed’. It said the savings possible would not be great as first assumed and the logistics of sustaining a single website would be too ‘daunting’.

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Councils Call for Powers over Troubled Schools

Powers to intervene in troubled schools should be returned to local authorities or public confidence in the education system may be at risk, councils say.

The authorities felt "powerless" under the current responsibility split between ministers and councils, said the Local Government Association (LGA).

The LGA said it wanted to be able to scrutinise budgets, and intervene at an early stage without Whitehall's say.

But the government said checks already existed outside council control.

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Sixth-Form Colleges Face Closure Because of Deep Budget Cuts

Sixth form colleges are under threat with several facing closure this year because of deep cuts to their budgets, claims a new study by the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA). A survey of England’s 93 sixth form colleges reveals that more than one in three colleges have already had to axe their language courses – while more than one in five have scrapped courses in the Stem science and maths subjects.

“The sector is now at a tipping point,” says the study. “A further reduction in funding would prove calamitous for many institutions, some would inevitably close, others would only be able to provide an impoverished educational experience to students.”

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PM's Flagship Scheme not Reaching Three Quarters of Troubled Families

Three quarters of troubled families "turned around" under a scheme initiated by the prime minister are still committing crime, without jobs and have children who remain excluded from school, according to local government data obtained by Hilary Benn, the shadow secretary of state for communities and local government.

Despite David Cameron's pledge to fix by 2015 the lives of 120,000 families beset by chaotic lifestyles, unemployment and poor health – estimated to cost the country £9bn a year – freedom of information requests made by Benn revealed that the government's flagship scheme has failed to help many of the households.

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Peter Bazalgette on Regional Arts Funding: 'Blame Lies with Council Cuts'

The looming crisis facing beleaguered regional arts organisations is real – but it is not due to the heavy weighting of arts spending towards London. That is the stark warning of Sir Peter Bazalgette, chairman of the Arts Council of England, speaking this weekend after he had defended his organisation's continued spending bias in favour of the capital to a parliamentary select committee.

Bazalgette told the Observer that, while the council is already correcting the extent of the historical London imbalance, the real danger is repeated cuts to local authority budgets – the biggest source of arts funds in the country – which threaten to halve the income of regional arts.

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How 10,000 Families are Paying Massive Care Home Bills They don't Need to

While recent figures show that care home fraud — families disposing of property and assets to claim state funding — has almost doubled in the past year, up 82 per cent to £4 million, many would argue that the far bigger con is being perpetrated by the NHS and local councils.

This is because families are not being informed about funding or exemptions they are entitled to — and as a result, experts believe, thousands of houses are being sold unnecessarily each year, and inheritances drained when they need not be.

To add to this, an estimated 100,000 families are unaware of some schemes that could save them a fortune in care home fees.

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Councils and Schools ‘Exploiting’ Part-time Workers, Says Unison

Part-time workers in local government and schools are being ‘exploited’ by being made to work unpaid overtime to plug service gaps caused by job cuts, Unison has claimed.

A survey by the trade union found more than 2,600 part-time workers – who make up around 60% of all employees in local government and schools – found unpaid overtime had become commonplace for more than half.

More than one-third (39%) of respondents said they work up to two hours of unpaid overtime each week, with 12.5% working between three and four hours, and almost 10% working five to ten additional hours for no pay.

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Councils Charging Terminally Ill for Personal Care, Says Charity

Local authorities are wrongly charging terminally ill people for personal care, according to a new report from MIND Scotland.

The charity is warning that many people under 65 years with Motor Neurone Disease are being charged by their local council for personal care, despite COSLA guidance stating those with a terminal illness should not have to pay.

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Devon County Council Appoints Custodian for £3bn Pension Fund

Devon County Council has appointed Northern Trust to manage its £3bn pension fund.

Northern Trust will provide global custody and securities lending for the council’s pension fund assets, helping to maximise its investment portfolio.

The appointment was made using the Local Government Pension Scheme Global Custodian Framework.

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Technology Gap Losing Billions in Potential Savings, Study Claims

Councils and public sector bodies could be missing out on £7.2bn savings thanks to inefficiencies and a ‘technology gap’, figures suggest.

Poor connectivity and limited access to the right tools is costing frontline community teams 53 hours a year at a cost of £2.2bn, according to O2 and the Centre for Economic and Business Research.

Research claims better connectivity could help healthcare workers cut time taken to complete follow up tasks to home visits by almost a third.

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Lottery to Match EU Regeneration Funding

The Big Lottery Fund has announced it will match funding allocations from the European Union for regeneration projects, in a boost to the money available to local enterprise partnerships.

The fund announced today that it was in advanced talks to match more than £260m of the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) from 2014-2020 to encourage charities and third sector organisations to bid for funding.

Priorities for the new seven-year programme will be determined by LEPs as part of their local growth plans. Once the ESIF funding package is approved by the European Commission later this year, the matched money will be available for projects that address poverty and social inclusion, such as schemes to improve skills and employability in disadvantaged communities.

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Devon Leaders Call on Pickles to Reverse Spending Cuts

Party leaders in Devon have written to communities secretary Eric Pickles urging him to reverse to the latest wave of council spending cuts.

The all-party plea warns that spending reductions will see the county’s budget slashed from £600m in 2009 to £400m in 2017, which will put its ability to deliver frontline services in jeopardy.

The letter also highlights funding inequalities, saying that rural authorities receive £336 a head in government grant while urban authorities get £481.

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Union Accuses Government of Shedding 'Crocodile Tears'

Six out of 10 social workers believe their ability to make a difference day-to-day was being affected by cuts to budgets and resources, a new report by trade union Unison has found.

The union warned that ‘swingeing budget cuts’ may create short-term savings, but would be at ‘far greater cost both financially and socially in the longer term’.

It said extra financial support from Government would enable councils to employ more social workers to tackle ‘dangerous caseload levels that currently make it impossible for social work staff to do their jobs effectively’.

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Pupil Premium Funds Filling Budget Holes, Teachers Report

Almost a quarter of teachers do not think that pupil premium funds are being spent properly, a Sutton Trust poll has revealed.

The premium has been paid to schools since April 2011 to help them raise the attainment of their poorest students. From September this year, it will be worth £1,300 for each eligible primary school pupil and £935 for secondary pupils.

But 23% of more than 1,000 teachers surveyed for the trust by the National Foundation for Education Research said their schools spent the funds on raising attainment for all pupils or paying for other activities that have been affected by school budget reductions.

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Call for ‘New Localism’ from Education Charity

A ‘new localism’ for public learning is required to ensure a skills-led economic recovery, a report has claimed.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and combined authorities should lead efforts to integrate regional skills with economic growth strategies by developing plans that support local growth, according to the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).

The charity said local skills strategies should be used to direct EU funding streams and capital to support local priorities.

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New Money for Councils to Support Families with SEND

Councils are to receive £45 million of new funding to help prepare for the biggest transformation of special educational needs and disabilities support in over 30 years.

The new money will support councils in giving young people and parents greater say over their personalised care and assistance. It will also put in place a new birth-to-25 system for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

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Council Leaders Braced for Service Failure as Cuts Bite

More than half of council leaders believe some local authorities will fail to deliver the essential services residents require within the next year as the impact of government spending cuts increases, a poll has found.

In PwC’s annual The local state we're in report, a survey of 125 council leaders and chief executives across the UK found two-thirds of leaders said they expected some councils to get into a ‘serious financial crisis’ this year. Over these, over half (53%) expected it to lead to failures in the delivery of essential services.

However, the proportion of chief executives who expected authorities to get into serious financial crisis over the next 12 months was lower at 35%, of which 29% saying they expected this to lead to a failure to deliver essential services.

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Audit Commission Finds £229m Lost to Fraud

The Audit Commission’s National Fraud Initiative uncovered £229m of incorrect and dishonestly obtained payments across the UK public sector in the last two years, according to figures published today.

In its last report before the initiative is moved to the Cabinet Office next April following the abolition, the commission announced that £74m of fraudulent pension payments had been detected by comparing data held by a number of public sector bodies. Incorrectly claimed single person discount for the council tax, worth £39m, was also detected, as was £33m of Housing Benefit.

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Councillors Say Transparency is Key to Effective Governance

A new report shows 90% of elected councillors and managers believe being held to account improves transparency and decision making.

The research, commissioned by the Centre for Public Scrutiny, showed strong support for accountability and scrutiny from colleagues resulted in more effective leadership, with 87% of the people surveyed stating this approach added value to their organisation.

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£65m Boost for Homelessness Initiatives

The government has announced an extra £65m of funding to help local authorities and other organisations tackle homelessness.

It includes an £8m Help for the Single Homeless Fund, which groups of councils can bid for up to £250,000 to improve services to single people.

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Council Pay Dispute Could See 2m People Strike

Up to two million public sector workers could join a strike next month in a dispute over pay, a union official has predicted.

National officer of the GMB, Brian Strutton, said members will walk out on July 10 if they vote yes, and could be joined by teachers and civil servants who are also embroiled in long-running disputes with the Government.

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Poll Indicates Public Sector Jobs Creation

The public sector will see a recruitment drive in coming months as organisations attempt to plug skills gaps in keys areas like health and social care, according to a report.

But the latest Manpower employment outlook survey – used as a key indicator by the Government and Bank of England – warns employers will find it harder to attract top talent due to public sector cutbacks.

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Charities Criticise Care Act

Many older and disabled people will be shut out of vital services under the Government’s plans for reform of the care system in England, charities have warned.

The Care Act, which passed into law last month, has been widely criticised by age and health charities, as well as companies providing care services.

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DoH Consults on Implementation of Care Reforms

The Department of Health is consulting on how councils should be tasked with introducing the government’s care and support reforms.

In a consultation document published, the department said it was looking for views on how to implement measures in the Care Act including the rollout of an eligibility threshold across the country and how plans for personal budgets could be enacted.

Local authorities have already warned ministers that the national threshold would lead to extra costs, and earlier this week called for a five-year funding settlement.

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Teachers Back Performance-Related Pay, Sutton Trust Poll Finds

Over half of teachers in English state schools support using pupils’ progress and results to determine whether they should receive a pay increase, a poll for the Sutton Trust has found.

The survey of 1,163 teachers by the National Foundation for Educational Research found 55% of primary teachers and 52% of secondary teachers accepted that ‘considering the progress and results of pupils they teach’ should be one of the criteria used when deciding on incremental pay increases.

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NAO: ‘Unpredictable’ Road Funding Could Damage Public Value

The government has been warned that a lack of consistency in the funding of road maintenance for both the Highways Agency and local authorities is putting public value at risk.

In a report examining road maintenance spending in England, the National Audit Office said funding for the Highways Agency, which maintains the strategic road network, would fall by 7% over the course of the 2011/12-2014/15 Spending Review period. This was a smaller cut than the 19% originally anticipated and reflected additional capital funding injections.

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Society Denies Councils are 'Wasting Millions'

IT and digital professionals working in local public services have bit back at claims councils are wasting millions by not using the Government’s G-Cloud framework.

The Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm) said media reports of research by IT supplier Bull showed ‘poor understanding’ of how local councils procure and deploy IT.

Ministers launched the framework to enable the fast and low cost procurement of a range of commodity software and cloud services.

A Socitm spokeswoman said: ‘While local government is making less use of the G-cloud framework than its central government counterparts, that is partly because the G-Cloud and the Government Digital Service were established primarily to address problems with central government IT procurement and deployment practice."

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Pool Budgets to Stop Elderly Being ‘Abandoned’, Lib Dems Say

udgets between the NHS and social services should be pooled so that elderly people are no longer "abandoned" in wrangles about who should fund what, the Liberal Democrats have said.

Norman Lamb, the Care Minister, said he wants to see the policy at the heart of the Lib Dem election manifesto, in a bid to to stop the frail and vulnerable "falling through gaps in the system" of health and social care.

He told The Daily Telegraph that he will propose the idea in a bid to tackle "a fragmented system of care" for the elderly.

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Council Property ‘Could Be Better Used’, Says Audit Commission

The Audit Commission has urged councils to ensure they implement a strategic approach to asset and property management after finding £2.5bn of the local government estate could be put to better use.

After examining council accounts, the commission’s Managing council property assets report found that in 2012/13, the local government estate was worth an estimated £169.8bn on net book value (NBV). This is defined as the value of an asset to the council, taking depreciation into account.

Although the value has fallen by nearly a third since 2004/05, the commission said there remained £2.5bn of assets deemed ‘surplus’ by councils.

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Council Chiefs Defend Top Salaries

In defence of council chiefs being paid more than £100,000 a year, a top council director has claimed her hours are equal to those of the prime minister.

Corporate director at Wiltshire Council, Maggie Rae, was defending the remuneration of local government chief officers at a hearing of the communities and local government committee yesterday.

Ms Rae insisted the role of prime minister was ‘not comparable’ to that of chief officers but said it was a ‘struggle’ to fill senior council positions even at high salaries.

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Councils Smash ICT Savings Targets

Councils have exceeded previous information and communications technology (ICT) savings forecasts by £40m, new research has found.

The report by Kable Market Intelligence found local authorities had managed to deal effectively with financial cuts in this area.

 

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Better Care Plans Under 'Intensive' Scrutiny

Council leaders and ministers are continuing to thrash out issues with better care plans as they are reviewed ahead of their implementation next year.

The Better Care Fund (BCF) was a key topic when local government minister Brandon Lewis met with the Local Government Association (LGA) this week as part of a series of regular review meetings.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the LGA and NHS England were ‘intensively reviewing better care plans at the moment’ before they are put to Government for approval.

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Queen’s Speech: Public Sector Pay-Offs Limited

Plans to limit pay-offs to senior public service managers and moves to increase the amount of public sector land available for development were among the measures confirmed in the Queen’s Speech.

A total of 12 bills and three draft bills were laid out by the monarch at the start of the last parliamentary session before next year’s general election. They included a commitment to take action to tackle abuse of controversial zero-hour contracts.

Addressing MPs and peers in the House of Lords, the Queen stated that the government would continue to focus on cutting the public sector deficit, with both a total cap on benefit spending and an updated charter for budget responsibility being introduced to parliament. The charter is expected to commit the next government to run a surplus by the end of the next parliament in 2020.

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Public Service Integration ‘Needs Single Ombudsman’

Government plans to integrate public services and spending mean it is vital that reforms are also made to the regime for dealing with complaints about poor provision, the Whitehall ombudsman has said.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor, told Public Finance that a single post covering local and central services in England could help ensure coordination in schemes such as Community Budgets and the Better Care Fund.

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European Commission Urges UK to Tax Expensive Homes More

The European Commission has called on the UK to raise taxes on higher value properties, build more houses and adjust the Help to Buy scheme.

The commission said council tax bands should be revalued, which would put up bills for some people.

Each year the commission offers member states advice intended to help ensure long-term growth.

The Treasury said that as one of the fastest growing economies, would listen to the commission with interest.

In far-reaching recommendations the European Union's executive body also said the UK should prioritise capital spending, affordable childcare, bank lending to small firms and making the planning system more predictable.

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Better Care Fund 'Needs Long-Term Clarity'

A £3.8bn scheme aimed at integrating health and social care services needs more clarity over its long-term future, local councils have said.

The Local Government Association called on ministers to the commit to the fund until 2020 "to avoid the care system spiralling towards a deeper crisis".

The government says it has made clear to councils the Better Care Fund is intended to last longer than one year.

It aims to cut hospital admissions in England and allow more home treatment.

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Councils 'Wasting Millions' Ignoring Government IT Cloud

UK county councils could be "wasting millions" on IT services they could buy more cheaply through the government's central digital marketplace, research suggests.

In the 2012-13 financial year, county councils spent nearly £440m in total on IT services, including staffing costs, but just £385,000 of that through the government's "G-Cloud" framework.

The G-Cloud initiative, launched in 2012, aims to shave £120m a year off the public sector IT bill by encouraging all public sector bodies to buy IT products and services through the government's CloudStore digital marketplace.

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Poll Reveals Biggest Challenges to Social Care Sector

Not enough face time and plummeting budgets are the greatest challenges facing social care in the UK, a poll has found.

A survey of social workers found 70% believe the lack of face-to-face meetings with service users is the most significant test facing the sector.

One third of participants to the TotalMobile survey said mobile working was not yet on the agenda at their local authority. Respondents said budget difficulties were the biggest hindrance to implementing such a process.

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1,500,000 Public Sector Workers Prepare to Strike

Coalition ministers have been summoned to a crisis meeting before one of Britain’s biggest ever strikes next month. Around 1.5 million refuse collectors, social workers, town planners, librarians, care home staff and other local government employees are expected to walk out of work for 24 hours on 10 July.

They are infuriated by a pay offer that will result in workers on a salary of £14,000 and above being given only a 1 per cent increase, while those at lower grades will be paid little more than the minimum wage. The industrial action is likely to be supported by up to 500,000 teachers and civil servants.

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Rehired Public Workers will have to Hand Back Redundancy Cash

Highly paid public-sector employees who lose their jobs and are re-hired by the state shortly afterwards will have to hand back part of their bumper redundancy payments.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, has moved to claw back millions of pounds of  taxpayer money in plans to be outlined in the Queen’s Speech this week.

The Small Business Bill will include provisions to recover portions of redundancy payments across the public sector from individuals earning more than £100,000.  These would apply when an individual takes a new job in the same part of the public sector within 12 months of being made redundant. The amount paid back will depend on the length of time between exit and re-employment.

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Independent Commission on Local Government Finance Launched

An independent commission into the future of council finance has been launched by CIPFA and the Local Government Association, tasked with developing reforms to address key challenges amid spending reductions.

The group, which was first announced in January, has been asked to examine the current funding regime and to come up with reforms to support local services and promote economic growth in England.

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Pickles Tipped to Move in Cabinet Reshuffle

Eric Pickles is being lined up for the job of party chairman, according to reports in the Sunday People about a forthcoming cabinet reshuffle.

The paper reported that Pickles is due to leave his role as communities secretary as part of a cabinet reshuffle aimed at wooing voters back from UKIP. It tipped employment minister, Esther McVey as his replacement.

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Town Halls Face Credit Test to Borrow from Bonds Agency

Councils will have to pass a credit test and cross-guarantee loans made to other authorities if they want to access the Local Government Association’s planned municipal bonds agency, the lead adviser on the project has said.

Speaking to Public Finance about the development of the agency, Aidan Brady said there had been interest from all types of councils to sign up to the scheme since approval of the business case in March.

He has been assessing interest from town halls in the ‘mobilisation phase’ of setting up the agency, which would issue bonds and then lend the money to councils as a rival to the Public Works Loans Board.

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Ombudsman Reports 14% Increase in Care Complaints

Complaints about adult social care increased by 14% over the last year to stand at nearly 2,500, with the vast majority about council-delivered services, the local government ombudsman has said today.

Publishing complaint statistics for all English adult social care providers today, the LGO said 40% of complaints came from 25 councils. East Sussex County Council was the authority with most complaints against it – 63 from the initial 2,456 registered complaints and enquiries. This was followed by 29 complaints against the London borough of Redbridge and 28 against Bromley and Ealing in the capital and Wirral borough council.

For the first time, the ombudsman has also published complaint data for private social care providers as well as those run by local authorities. However, 86% of the complaints received were made against services delivered by the 152 local authorities responsible for delivering social care in England, with a further 3% covering services commissioned. Around 9% were made against private providers.

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Council Tax Arrears ‘Now Top Debt Complaint’

Council tax arrears is now the biggest single debt problem reported to the Citizens Advice Bureau following government reforms that localised the support scheme for the tax, it has been revealed.

Publishing figures on debt problems, the charity Citizens Advice said problems paying council tax had surpassed credit card and unsecured personal loans as the most frequently raised issue. It was now raised by one in five people following the establishment of local support schemes in April 2013, the group said.

Localisation of council tax support meant some people who previously had their liability met in full were now billed for some of the tax, as the amount transferred from government to councils for the creation of new schemes was cut by 10%.

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Pay Falls for Public Sector Staff

Public sector staff have seen their monthly wages fall by £17.38 in real terms since last April, data reveals.

According to the latest VocaLink Take Home Pay Index, public sector wages were 1.1% lower in the three months to the end of April than over the same period in 2013.

The trend was not extended to private sector workers however, with FTSE 350 employees £16.76 per month better off than they were last year.

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£23m Funding Boost for Enterprise Zones

Enterprise zones have been allocated £23m of new funding to deliver essential infrastructure for new jobs.

The money, from the Department of Communities and Local Government, will fund new roads, utility lines and construction projects to bring more jobs to Bristol, Manchester, Great Yarmouth and Leicestershire.

Local growth minister, Kris Hopkins, said the extra investment was part of the Government’s long term economic plan to provide more local jobs. Hopkins said: ‘Enterprise zones are showing that our long term economic plan to secure a better future is spreading businesses, jobs and skills training across the country.

‘Today’s cash injection will give four zones the raw ingredients to make their sites a stronger, more competitive business environment that will attract new jobs for hardworking local people.’

The Government said enterprise zones have created over 9,000 jobs and secured £1.2bn of private sector investment since they started three years ago.

 

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Labour Pledges Longer-Term ‘Certainty’ for Council Funding

Labour would grant local government longer-term certainty over funding but could not ‘undo’ Coalition cuts if elected into power next year.

In a speech to the Institute for Chartered Accountants for England and Wales, a shadow Treasury minister will warn that keeping public services such as local government ‘in the dark’ about funding complicates necessary reforms.

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Council Satisfaction Ratings Remain Stable, LGA Poll Finds

Satisfaction with council services has remained steady over the last 18 months, a poll by the Local Government Association has found, with more than two-thirds of people either very or fairly satisfied with how things are run.

According to a survey of 1,000 residents, 70% of people are pleased with how their local council operates, up from 69% in the previous poll last April and down just 2 percentage points from September 2012, despite town hall funding cuts.

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Long-Term Stability ‘Crucial to LGPS Reforms’

Proposed reforms to the Local Government Pension Scheme must ensure long-term stability as well cost savings, the National Association of Pension Funds has said.

n its response to the government’s consultation on changes to the LGPS to create common investment vehicles across the 89 funds in England, the NAPF said the plan must meet three key principles: value; flexibility; and a long-term approach.

Ministers have said that as much as £660m a year could be saved through greater use of common investment vehicles, but NAPF said the changes ‘should focus on delivering good value for employers, taxpayers and scheme members to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fund, not just low cost’.

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Council Workers in Fair Pay Protest

Council and school workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will hold protests today as part of Unison's campaign for fair pay and council funding.

The protests take place on the eve of a strike ballot over this year's 1% pay offer by Local Government Employers.

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Councils 'Firefighting' Way Through Tough Times, Says Report

Many local authorities are 'firefighting' their way through cuts and focusing too heavily on reducing staff, according to a new report.

The Skills for Local Government report found workforce planning is becoming increasingly difficult for local authorities as budget cuts are forcing them to focus on a basic head count and workplace reductions instead.

According to the report, workplace planning is also becoming more complicated as local authorities outsource services, take part in shared services arrangements, and develop new service delivery models.

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Youth Service Cuts Warning

The impact of cuts in youth services will be detailed at trade union Unison’s annual conference next month.

Delegates will be warned that the cuts will lead to higher youth unemployment, less empowerment among young people, an increase in mental health and substance abuse issues, and particular problems for young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

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Council Staff Could Strike 10 July, Warns GMB

GMB has confirmed it will ballot local councils over industrial action and will strike on 10th July if the outcome is positive.

The trade union will ballot councils and schools after 83% of its members rejected the 1% pay offer. GMB has now said it will instigate an official strike ballot.

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Schoolkids Lives at Risk for £3,000

Conservative-led budget cuts means councils are firing school crossing patrols across the country.

A thousand lollipop ladies have been axed since 2010 – putting children’s lives at risk, a Mirror investigation reveals.


One teacher warned town hall bosses they will have “blood on their hands” if children died on the roads.


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Privatise Child Protection Services, Department for Education Proposes

The power to take children away from their families could be privatised along with other child protection services under controversial plans the government has quietly announced.

The proposal from Michael Gove's Department for Education (DfE) to permit the outsourcing of children's social services in England to companies such as G4S and Serco has alarmed experts. They say profit-making companies should not be in charge of such sensitive family matters, and warn that the introduction of the profit motive into child protection may distort the decision-making process.

 

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Free School Meals Policy is Underfunded, Say Headteachers

Headteachers and local authorities say they are having to divert resources and funds from school budgets to pay for new kitchens as a result of the Liberal Democrats' underfunded policy of giving free school meals to all infants.

While Westminster was enthralled by the eruption over the policy between Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and former Department for Education special adviser Dominic Cummings – with accusations flying that Clegg wanted Cummings charged under the official secrets act – school heads say they have been left to fend for themselves in parts of the country.

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Outsourcing in Local Government Increases by Nearly 60%

Local government outsourcing contracts increased by 58% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2014, according to new figures.

The UK Quarterly Outsourcing Index, published by arvato, reveals that the public sector agreed £1.5bn of outsourcing deals this quarter, an increase of 168% compared to 2013.

According to the Index, the most popular outsourcing contracts were for back office services (38%), with HR accounting for 93% of all agreements.

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Council Funding Cuts Damaging Relationships with Local Groups, Survey Suggests

Local voluntary groups are facing a tough financial prospect for the next 12 months and relationships with local authorities are coming under strain, according to the latest National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA) survey.

The survey reveals that 40% of respondents felt their relationship with their local authority had deteriorated over the past year, with 40% expecting their local council to have a negative impact on their success over the next 12 months.

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Millions in Local Economic Growth Funding not Being Used Warn MPs

Only 10% of available government funding to promote local economic growth has been allocated, according to a new report.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has today warned that the two departments responsible for this programme now face a huge challenge in meeting spending targets by the end of this financial year.

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Committee, said: ‘Despite the large sums available for for promoting economic growth locally, little money has actually reached businesses.

‘Of the £3.9bn that has been allocated in total to these initiatives, only nearly £400 million had made it to local projects by the end of 2012-13.’

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Baroness Calls for End to 'Toxic' Care Conditions

A new ethical care charter binding on all councils should be introduced to end a ‘toxic combination of conditions’ for nursing home and homecare staff, a report has recommended.

The charter described in today’s report by former deputy chairwoman of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, Baroness Denise Kingsmill, would commit councils to ending 15-minute visits, ensure providers paid care workers for their travel time and end the use of zero-hour contracts.

It would also ensure councils and service providers were transparent in their price setting.

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Care Bill Becomes Care Act 2014

Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb talks about the biggest reforms to the social care system in more than 60 years.

The Care Act represents the most significant reform of care and support in more than 60 years, putting people and their carers in control of their care and support. For the first time, the Act will put a limit on the amount anyone will have to pay towards the costs of their care.

And, crucially, the Act delivers key elements of the government’s response to the Francis Inquiry into the awful events at Mid Staffordshire hospital, increasing transparency and openness and helping drive up the quality of care across the system.

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Lack of Council Tax Revaluation ‘Absurd’, Says IFS Head

The coalition government has been told by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that its failure to carry out a revaluation of property values for the purposes of levying council tax is ‘increasingly absurd’.

In a lecture on the tax system, IFS director Paul Johnson said the coalition had ‘followed in the pusillanimous steps of its predecessors in failing to carry out any revaluation of properties for council tax in England’. As a result, the property tax would soon be based on relative property values that are a quarter of a century out of date.

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Better Care Fund Opportunity 'Could Be Missed'

The opportunity for the Better Care Fund (BCF) to transform services could be missed, a health consultancy warned today.

MHP Health said current practice and funding challenges suggested there was a danger the BCF would be used to meet rising social care needs.

It called for more evidence about effective interventions that support integration.

A MHP investigation into how councils are using health money that has already been transferred to social care found that less than 4% of the funding had been allocated to mental health services in 2012/13 and 2013/14.

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CIPFA Joins Drive to Boost Health and Social Care Integration

CIPFA has joined forces with the Healthcare Finance Managers Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to discuss what their members can do to progress the integration of health and social care.

The three bodies met for the first time in March and now plan to hold a regular forum for discussion and debate. They want to explore opportunities for networking to bring health and social care finance practitioners together to share best practice, raise awareness across the sectors about funding flows and service delivery, and identify areas where further academic research could help aid understanding of the impact of integration.

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Councillors Trusted More than MPs, Reveals Poll

Councillors are trusted more than MPs and government ministers with local services, according to a new poll.

The poll, conducted by the Local Government Association (LGA), reveals that three in four people trust their local councillor more than their MP to make decisions about local services. Of those surveyed, 76% trust their local councillor the most, compared to just 9% trusting their MP and 6% trusting government ministers.

The survey also shows an increase in the percentage of people who trust their council most to make decisions about local service provision, up to 77% from 71% in October.

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Few 'Will Hit Social Care Cost Cap'

Pensioners expecting a government cap on the cost of elderly social care in England to mean help paying their bill are "in for a shock", a report warns.

The £72,000 limit, from 2016, will benefit just 8% of men and 15% of women, Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) analysis says.

It points out the cap covers direct care costs only and people could spend up to £140,000 before they are helped.

Ministers say changing the current "unfair" system will help more people.

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Public Service Cuts Deepen as Councils Near Financial Tipping Point

The closure of public services such as leisure centres, libraries and youth clubs is likely to intensify over the next two years as councils across Britain deal with a tipping point in their finances, the Local Government Association has warned.

A survey of council financial strategies found three in five will have exhausted other ways of making savings by the 2015/16 financial year, meaning they will need to make deeper cuts to public services before the general election and in the following year.

The LGA sounded the warning before this month's local elections, which are taking place in many district, borough and town councils. The newly elected representatives, along with incumbents, will have to decide whether to shut some public services almost as soon as they have taken office.

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Michael Gove and David Laws at War over Free Schools

A major Coalition row broke out last night after Liberal Democrats accused Michael Gove of raiding £400million from a fund to ease overcrowding in classrooms to “lavish” on his flagship “free schools”.

David Laws, the Lib Dem Schools Minister, was said to have raised serious concerns after the Education Secretary proposed using the money to fill an £800million shortfall in the budget for the free schools.

However, Mr Gove overruled Mr Laws and senior Lib Dems are now furious that the Education Secretary has put his “ideological” obsession with free schools ahead of the need for more school places.

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Ministers Reaffirm Commitment to Better Care Fund

Integration of health and social care funding is a necessity to meet the funding challenge of an ageing population, local government minister Brandon Lewis and care minister Norman Lamb have said following speculation about the future of the government’s plans.

Writing in a County Councils Network report examining progress on the government’s planned Better Care Fund to integrate spending between council social care and NHS, the ministers said demographic and financial pressures required the reform. Their comments come after the Department of Health last week had to deny media reports that the scheme may be delayed following Cabinet Office concerns about the plan.

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New Pension Care Fund Proposed

A new pension care fund could help people save for long-term care, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) has suggested.

The IFoA said the fund would be a ring-fenced long-term care savings pot that would sit within the framework of a defined contribution pension scheme.

It suggested the savings would be treated for tax purposes like a pension and any money accumulated that was not used to fund care could be passed on free of inheritance tax for use as a long-term care fund by a spouse or other beneficiary.

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Council Asset Programme Opens to New Applicants

Local authorities can apply for a programme to help save money and create new homes and jobs through better use of their assets.

The One Public Estate programme, run by Cabinet Office and the Local Government Association (LGA) will support local councils to create economic growth, generate capital receipts, reduce their running costs and provide more integrated and customer-focused services.

Successful authorities will receive:

  • £40,000 in initial funding
  • comprehensive support from the GPU and LGA
  • access to Whitehall departments and LGA officials so that they can work with central government and leverage funding from other sources

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Ministers Back CIVs to Save £660m Pension Costs

Ministers wanting to reform town hall pensions have backed common investment vehicles (CIVs) as a way to help deliver annual savings of up to £660m.

The controversial option of pursuing fund mergers has been shelved because it could take around 18 months longer to implement, which would lead to a ‘significant reduction in the net present value of savings over 10 years’.

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Solace: Councils Need to ‘Reclaim’ Children’s Services

Councils have been urged to ‘reclaim’ children’s services provision from control by Whitehall departments and inspectors so town halls can act as the local champions of the interests of children, young people and families.

In a report examining councils’ responsibilities for both education and children’s social care, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives called on authorities to use their democratic mandate to convene, facilitate and oversee a range of local services.

The Reclaiming children’s services report stated that moves toward integration and place-based budgeting, such as the Troubled Families initiative and Community Budgets, created potential for town halls to drive improvements in children’s services.

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£3.8bn NHS Better Care Fund Policy Delayed after Damning Whitehall Review

A government policy intended to stop the NHS from becoming overwhelmed has been delayed after a confidential Whitehall review concluded it would not work as hoped. Neither would it help to balance the NHS budget or bring about an intended revolution in patient care.

The £3.8bn-a-year Better Care Fund was supposed to have been launched last week, but its introduction has become mired in doubt after the Cabinet Office voiced deep disquiet about its viability and argued that there was little or no detail about how the expected savings would be delivered.

A Whitehall source said the Cabinet Office believed that the claims for the Better Care Fund did not stack up and wanted "a lot more work done on the policy".

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Ministers Insist Better Care Fund is on Track

Ministers have insisted that plans to integrate health and social care through the Better Care Fund are on track despite reports of Cabinet Office scepticism.

The Guardian today reported a Whitehall source saying that the Cabinet Office wanted ‘a lot more work done on the policy’.

A Cabinet Office spokesman told The MJ that the department did not comment on leaks.

But local government minister Brandon Lewis said: ‘It is completely untrue that the Better Care Fund has been put on hold."

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Conservative Authorities Have the Highest Council Tax Rises

A central plank of the Conservative campaign for the local elections later this month – that its councils guarantee lower levels of council tax – has been challenged by new figures which show that the Tories are responsible for the highest increases. The figures, which have been compiled by the House of Commons library, show that the Tories run eight of the 10 councils with the highest council tax increases. The most dramatic increase between 1997-2010, the period examined by the House of Commons library, was 537% in the Tory heartland of Huntingdonshire.

Of the 10 councils with the lowest rate of council tax, eight are held by Labour. The lowest increase among Labour councils was 36%. The council with the lowest increase was Wandsworth, controlled by the Tories, on 17%.

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LEPs Branded ‘Unaccountable’ by Council Leaders

County councils have expressed concern that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS) are impenetrable, under funded and lack transparency.

A survey of county and county unitary authority leaders by the County Councils Network (CCN) has found over three quarters agree or strongly agree that LEPs are unaccountable.

Calling into question the future potential of the economic growth strategy, 62% of respondents said LEPs lack sufficient devolved funds while 42% disagree or strongly disagree with the idea that LEPs provide strong or inclusive decision-making.

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Loneliness in Older People Will Push Services to ‘Breaking Point’

Chronic loneliness in older people is leading to a number of ‘avoidable’ poor health conditions, according to new research from Age UK.

The survey found that over one million people aged 65 or over said they were always or often lonely, which contributes to increased risk of cognitive decline, clinical dementia, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Campaigners are calling for tackling loneliness to be a top property for local health and care services, saying it has a similar impact on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

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Schools Best at Helping Disadvantaged Pupils to Share £4 Million Prize Fund

Schools across England that do the most to help disadvantaged pupils improve their results stand to win a share of £4 million, thanks to the 2015 Pupil Premium Awards announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Schools Minister David Laws on 1 May 2014.

Thousands of pupils in up to 500 schools across England could benefit from the awards, which encourage schools to find innovative and effective ways of using pupil premium funding - extra money given to schools for every disadvantaged pupil they teach, worth a total government commitment of £6.25 billion by 2015.

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OECD Increases UK Growth Forecast

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has revised up its forecast for UK growth in 2014 due to what it called the robust pace of the economic recovery. It also backed continuation of government cuts into 2015.

The economic think-tank said it expected the UK to grow by 3.2% in 2014, up from the 2.4% predicted in its last report in November 2013. Expansion would be sustained through both household spending, which has been boosted by high levels of employment, and an increase in business investment. The projection for growth in 2015 has also been revised up from 2.5% to 2.7%, despite a fall in its projections for global growth. 

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School Rebuilding Programme: £2bn for Next Phase

A school rebuilding and repairs programme in England has been has been allocated £2bn to fund the next phase between 2015 and 2021.

This comes as the first school rebuilt under the £2.4bn Priority School Building Programme is opened.

There are 261 schools scheduled to be rebuilt under this scheme by 2017.

Schools Minister David Laws said the scheme would "look at targeting individual school buildings, as well as whole school rebuilds".

The ATL teachers' union dismissed it as a "drop in the ocean" and said that hundreds of thousands of pupils would still be taught in sub-standard buildings.

 

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Government Backs LGPS Reforms but Rules Out Mergers

A review of the Local Government Pension Scheme has ruled out mergers of the 89 funds in England, but has concluded that as much as £660m a year could be saved through greater use of common investment vehicles.

The examination of the structure of the LGPS by pensions experts Hymans Robertson, commissioned by local government minister Brandon Lewis, concluded that the cost of asset management across the scheme in 2012 was £790m.

Hymans Robertson was asked to assess potential ways to cut these costs, including mergers of existing LGPS schemes, as part of a government call for evidence on possible reforms.

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Treasury Guidance to Help Councils Make Reform Case

A new government tool to improve the cost-benefit analysis of public service reforms could help councils make the case for local changes that improve provision and cut costs, according to a senior figure involved in its development.

The government published Cost benefit analysis guidance for local partnerships on April 2, under its public service reform programme. Developed as part of the Greater Manchester ‘whole place’ Community Budget pilot, it was the first Treasury-approved assessment of the costs and benefits of joining-up and reforming public services in local areas. 

The framework was developed by New Economy, the economic strategy unit of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

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Report Calls for Council Tax to be Charged on Stalled Sites

Councils should be allowed to charge council tax on homes that should been built on stalled development sites, as part of proposals included in a new report to boost housing supply.

The report, published by KPMG and Shelter, calls for urgent action by the Government to tackle the housing shortage with new figures showing house prices could quadruple in twenty years.

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Union Urges Social Workers to Reject Outsourcing Proposals

The government’s proposal to allow councils to outsource children’s services is a ‘dangerous ideological attack’ according to trade union Unison.

In a response to the consultation on the proposals – which could see ‘nearly all’ children’s services functions privatised – the union is urging social workers to reject the plans.

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Pressure Grows on LGA to Engage in Pay Talks

Trade union Unison has called on council chiefs to engage in further discussions over potential increases to local government pay.

The call comes following the revelation that both Unison and Unite are balloting council members on taking strike action over wages.

Trade unions last month branded a 1% local government pay increase offered by National Employers ‘insulting’.

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Service Integration Chief Pledges to Break Down Barriers

A panel of experts convened to examine service integration is looking for examples of ‘can-do’ areas that are breaking down barriers, one of its leaders has said.

Speaking to Public Finance as the Service Transformation Challenge Panel issued its formal call for evidence, co-chair Derek Myers said it wanted to challenge both local government and Whitehall to address obstacles to service transformation.

Myers, the former chief of both the London boroughs Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea, will lead the panel along with Newcastle City Council chief executive Pat Ritchie. It was established by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander last month to advise ministers on what is required both locally and nationally to increase the pace and scale of service integration and transformation. This will examine the lessons from schemes such as Community Budgets and the Troubled Families programmes.

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Government Insists Troubled Families Plan is on Track

Only a third of England’s most troubled families have been ‘turned around’ following two years of Government graft, figures reveal.

Ministers emphasised efforts were on track despite concerns that pledges from the prime minister to support and improve the behaviour of 120,000 troubled families by 2015 could be missed.

A progress update from the Department of Communities and Local Government shows 39,480 families have been helped to reduce truancy, anti-social behaviour and youth crime since the programme began.

While the Government estimates this has saved the taxpayer annual sums of £3bn, charities warned of significant inconsistencies in local support.

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Parliamentary Inquiry into Disabled Childcare Launched

An independent Parliamentary inquiry has been launched into the problems faced in accessing childcare for disabled children.

The inquiry will seek evidence from families, professionals and a range of stakeholders, reporting by the end of July.

Only 28% of councils in England say they have enough childcare for disabled children, research has found.

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