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News Headlines

 

Hampshire criticises Solent's £900m devolution plans

Three unitary councils in Hampshire have agreed plans to create a Solent Combined Authority but the county council has again warned of the dangers to countywide services if its district councils sign up.

Portsmouth and Southampton City Councils and the Isle of Wight Council last week launched a consultation on their plans for a ‘Solent Deal’, which they are negotiating with the Government to secure extra powers and funding their area.

The councils said the deal ‘would give the region £900m over the next 30 years to improve infrastructure, transport and housing, and provide training and skills and support for business.'

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LGA company to negotiate auditors' contracts for councils

A company set up by the Local Government Association (LGA) has been chosen as the officially approved body to negotiate auditors' contracts for local authorities.

From April 2018 councils will be free to negotiate their own contracts, but the LGA has urged them to make use of the new company which will be able to save money by buying centrally instead of each local authority procuring its own auditor.

The LGA says current contracts managed by PSAA following the Audit Commission's closure are 55% lower cost than previously, saving the public purse £200m over a five-year term.

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Councils awarded £30m for environmentally-friendly buses

Local authorities and bus operators have been awarded millions to buy low emmission buses.

13 successful bidders have received £30m of Government funding to add 326 buses – including electric, hybrid, hydrogen and biomethane buses – to their fleets.

This money will also go towards installing more than £7m worth of infrastructure, such as chargepoints.

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Other Headlines

Planning applications for new shops fell 9% in past year

The number of applications to build new shops fell by 9% in the past year, according to a report on Monday, marking the seventh decline in a row.

There were 6,700 applications for new retail developments in 2015, down from 7,360, according to commercial law firm EMW. They are down by nearly a half from the pre-recession peak of 11,900 in 2008.

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Chancellor may 'reset' economic policy in Autumn Statement

The new Chancellor of the Exchequer has said he may use the Autumn Statement to "reset" Britain's economic policy.

Before becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May had said that the government would no longer seek to reach a surplus by 2020.

Mr Hammond said on Friday: "Over the medium term we will have the opportunity with our Autumn Statement, our regular late year fiscal event, to reset fiscal policy if we deem it necessary to do so in the light of the data that will emerge over the coming months."

 

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PAC: delayed discharge costing NHS £800m

Elderly people are regularly kept in hospital for too long after their treatment has finished, with a cost to the health service of around £800m a year, the Public Accounts Committee has found.

A report published today also highlighted that the number of bed days occupied by older people who are no longer benefiting from acute care is approximately 2.7 million a year.

The PAC is urging government to adopt measures to prevent discharge delays, which are damaging patient health and compromising the financial sustainability of the health service.

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April-June public borrowing down £2.3bn on last year

Public borrowing was £25.6bn between April and June this year, £2.3bn down on the same period in 2015, according to official figures.

The latest public finances bulletin, published by the Office for National Statistics today, also revealed that borrowing for the month of June (excluding public sector banks) was £7.8bn, down £2.2bn on June last year.

Public sector net debt, again excluding banks, was £1,620.7bn at the end of June, equivalent to 84.0% of gross domestic product. This represents an increase of £47.6bn on June 2015.

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Philip Hammond prepared to 'reset' George Osborne's economic policy in Autumn Statement

Philip Hammond has said he is prepared to "reset" the Government's economic policy in Autumn Statement later this year.

In a major shift away from the austerity imposed under George Osborne, the new Chancellor suggested his Treasury will act in the aftermath of Britain's decision to leave the EU "if necessary".

He made the comments at the start of his trip to China where he will seek to strengthen post-Brexit business ties in Asia.

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Brexit adding to over-stretch on major projects, NAO head warns

Civil engineers have rejected suggestions from the head of the National Audit Office (NAO) that Government should rationalise its portfolio of major projects or see it ‘come to a halt under its own weight’ as the civil service is over-stretched by Brexit.

In a speech on Thursday evening (21 July), Sir Amyas Morse, comptroller and auditor general at the NAO, said projects like HS2 show that the civil service is already ‘over-committed’.

Sir Amyas said: ‘We must start by not pretending that the civil service can deliver whatever ministers throw at it. Government must get much better at prioritising its activities and projects.’

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New schools funding scheme to be delayed by a year

The implementation of a new national funding formula for schools will be delayed by a year, Education Secretary Justine Greening has told MPs.

The government had been planning to bring in the new funding scheme in England from 2017-18 - but it will now apply from 2018-19, she said.

"We must get our approach right," Ms Greening told the Commons.

Labour's shadow education secretary Angela Rayner criticised the delay as "woeful".

The government says the new formula is needed to tackle uneven levels of funding across England, with the best funded areas getting more than £6,300 per pupil per year, while the worst-funded averaging just £4,200 - but there are concerns that while some schools will benefit, a new formula could mean some schools in areas of need facing budget cuts.

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Sheffield signs multi-million deal with Chinese company

Sheffield has agreed to the biggest Chinese investment deal outside of London in a move which promises the city millions of pounds worth of funding.

The city council announced the 60 year partnership with Sichuan Guodong Construction Group today after the council’s leader and deputy leader returned from Sheffield’s sister city of Chengdu.

The first tranche of funding associated with this agreement - which was 18 years in the making - is estimated to be worth £220m and will be used to fund four or five Sheffield city centre projects over the next three years.

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Dementia care in crisis over lack of funding from councils

Figures from healthcare analysts Laing Buisson show one local authority is paying only half the minimum needed to provide safe residential care.

Up to 20 are paying a third less. Only 21 of the country’s 150 councils are paying at or above the lower end of the reasonable cost benchmark.

The minimum weekly fee is £620 a week, or £3.70 an hour, on the understanding 24-hour care is needed.

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Government Departments and Ministers

Since the selection of a new Conservative leader there have been significant changes of Government Departments and Ministerial Posts.

Theresa May took charge as Prime Minister on 13 July 2016 following the resignation of David Cameron caused by the EU referendum ‘Brexit’ vote on 23 June 2016.

The Technical Support Team has produced a paper with the various ministerial appointments and some background information on each one. This will continue to get updated over the coming weeks and months.

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Javid replaces Clark at DCLG in wide-ranging Cabinet reshuffle

Sajid Javid has been appointed communities and local government secretary by the new prime minister Theresa May in a reshuffle that saw a radical change in personnel as well as some machinery of government changes.

Responding to Javid’s appointment, Local Government Association chair Lord Porter urged him to continue innovative reforms, such as devolution and business rates retention.

“We will work with the secretary of state to ensure councils and their residents get the best possible deal,” he added.

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Councils should expect no ‘mercy’ from May, union says

Local government cannot ‘expect any mercy’ from Theresa May as she becomes Prime Minister, union warns.

Branding the new PM an ‘austerity enthusiast’, the public sector union Unite cautions local government workers not to expect anything different from Mrs May.

‘There is nothing in Theresa May’s record that suggests that local government can expect any mercy as she becomes prime minister,’ they said.

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Council tax rises 'fail to stop care cuts'

 Care services are facing cuts this year as rises in council tax have failed to plug the gaps in budgets in England, town hall chiefs are warning.

The government allowed councils to increase council tax by 2% this year to spend on care - and most have done so.

But, according to a survey of all 151 social care directors, there is still a shortfall of nearly £1bn.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said councils had no option but to reduce the services.

Directors in charge of care for older people and adults with disabilities indicated in the annual survey only about half of this shortfall could be met by efficiency savings.

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'Cut business rates – and help us cope with Referendum': key groups send urgent plea to Chancellor from 100,000 UK firms

Top groups representing more than 100,000 firms have written to Chancellor George Osborne, calling for an urgent cut in business rates coupled with action to help companies cope with the effects of the Referendum. Those issuing the demands include the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Retail Consortium, the Association of Convenience Stores and the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers. They represent a range of businesses from FTSE retailers to corner shops. Companies are offering to ring-fence the money they save from any reduction in business rates and then to reinvest it in their firms. They want the date for the introduction of planned reforms to the rates system – due in 2020 – to be brought forward. The companies also want many firms to be relieved of the obligation to pay business rates altogether and they are calling for the whole system to be simplified.

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Clark signals support for further devolution to London

Communities secretary Greg Clark has supported the proposal to devolve further fiscal powers to London in the wake of the EU referendum.

After the referendum, London mayor Sadiq Khan claimed the ‘genie was out of the bottle’ for more devolution to London.

He said he was not asking for a ‘bigger slice of the pie’ but wanted ‘more control of that pie’.

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Report on free school meals ‘not published’

The Department for Education has refused to publish a report that says England’s smallest schools cannot afford to provide free school meals to children, according to John Vincent, former adviser on school food. The restaurateur told BBC Radio 4 the decision not to release the document was “undemocratic”.

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Clark hints support for devo deal without mayor

Speaking at the Local Government Association conference, Mr Clark said he was ‘very impressed’ with a devolution bid from Leicester and Leicestershire which is understood to lack proposals for a directly elected mayor.

He told the District Councils Network reception that he thought the bid was ‘a very positive proposal’.

‘It seems to me a very good example of where the district, county and unitary have been working together for some time, proposed something that actually doesn’t make huge demands in terms of devolved powers from secretaries of state but reflects a desire to work together,’ he said.

However Mr Clark said he would make a decision ‘following proper advice’,

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Reform of business rate appeals to be in place next year

The Government is pushing ahead with plans to reform the businesses rate appeals system, in a bid to cut down on speculative appeals.

The reforms - due to come into effect from April 2017 - will require businesses to go through a new ‘check, challenge, appeal’ process.

A new £300 fee will also be charged to lodge an appeal (refunded if the appeal is successful) while those lodging false appeals will face a £500 fine. 

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Academisation not always best for poorest pupils finds research

One in five academy chains are performing below average for improving the education for disadvantaged pupils, new research has revealed.

The analysis by the Sutton Trust found eight out of 39 sponsored academy chains are performing ‘substantially’ below the national average for attainment and improvement for the poorest pupils.

However, a report also published today from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) found the top performing multi-academy trusts did manage to deliver better outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

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Councils’ spending hits new low

Councils’ spending in England will fall by 1% in 2016-17 (£0.9bn) according to official figures, raising concerns over the financial resilience of local authorities.
The figures, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, show cultural services will see the biggest reduction with 5.8% cuts planned.
Education budgets will fall by 2.2% - mainly due to the number of schools converting to academies - with fire and rescue services seeing reduction of 1.3%.

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Councils need ‘assurances’ over billions in EU funding

Council leaders want ‘urgent assurances’ from Whitehall that they will still receive billions in EU funding following the referendum result.

The Local Government Association (LGA) reports the £5.3bn of regeneration funding from Brussels has already been earmarked by councils to create new jobs and build new infrastructure by 2020.

At their annual conference, which starts today, the LGA will also repeat their call for councils to be given a central role—a ‘seat around the table’--in deciding how to replace EU laws affecting their services.

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Local government secures seat at EU negotiations

Local government will be given a seat at the table for negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, the Government has confirmed.

Communities secretary Greg Clark has confirmed local government will be fully involved in discussing the terms of a Brexit, arguing Whitehall cannot be the ‘default destination; for new powers and funding.

He said: The response to leaving the European Union has to be a radically expanded role for local government. When we are transferring powers from the EU to Britain I think it is essential that Whitehall is not the default destination for them.’

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Osborne 'to abandon 2020 budget surplus target'

Chancellor George Osborne has abandoned his target to restore government finances to a surplus by 2020, the BBC has learned.

It had been the chancellor's most prized goal and had been driving austerity measures in previous budgets.

However, the Chancellor said the UK must be "realistic about achieving a surplus by the end of the decade".

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Social care precept to net councils £382m

Councils will raise £382m from a council tax precept to fund adult social care, but spending will only rise by £308m, according to data published by the government today.

The figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government show that the first year of the adult social care precept, announced in last year’s Spending Review, would raise the equivalent on 2.7% of adult social care expenditure.

However, funding for services was only set to rise by 2.2% compared to 2015-16.

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We'll only empty your bins every three weeks: Fear of rats and fly-tipping as councils cut collections

An investigation by ITV’s Tonight programme earlier this month found that nearly two-thirds of UK homes now have bins collected every fortnight, while five councils in England and Wales had reduced landfill waste collection to once every three weeks.

Oldham council is the latest to announce three-weekly emptying. The Labour-run authority is to move from fortnightly general waste collections in October in a bid to save £1.5million a year.

 

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Councils to use £1.9bn from reserves to fund services

Councils are planning to use £1.9bn of their cash reserves in the next financial year, according to official figures.

The statistics show local authorities have budgeted to spend 9% of their reserves between 2016-17.

The figures reveal that adult social care services will see the biggest rise in expenditure, with councils planning to invest an extra £308m in services for the elderly and vulnerable.

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Brexit 'will make NHS staff shortages worse'

The vote to leave the EU risks making staffing shortages in the NHS worse, health leaders are warning.

The NHS Confederation said doctors and nurses from Europe may be put off accepting jobs after the referendum.

If that happened the NHS could face some major problems, it said.

The organisation, which represents health managers, said there were currently 130,000 EU health and care workers in the UK, including 10% of doctors and 5% of nurses.

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Councils' cash from EU 'should be guaranteed' if withdrawn

The LGA called for the UK government to guarantee that the councils would still get that money even if it is no longer provided by the EU. It said this was vital "to avoid essential growth-boosting projects stalling and local economies across England being stifled".

The organisation - which represents 349 English councils - said local authorities must now play a "central" role in bringing communities back together, following the vote.

It said EU regulations impacted upon many local services, including waste and environmental services, and councils "need a seat around the table when decisions are taken over how to replace EU laws".

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Pound hits lowest level since 1985

The value of the pound has fallen dramatically as it emerged that the UK had voted to leave the EU. 

At one stage, the currency hit $1.3305, a fall of more than 10% and a low not seen since 1985.

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Brexit: David Cameron to quit after UK votes to leave EU

Prime Minister David Cameron is to step down by October after the UK voted to leave the European Union.

Mr Cameron made the announcement in a statement outside Downing Street after the final result was announced.

He said he would attempt to "steady the ship" over the coming weeks and months.

He had urged the country to vote Remain, warning of economic and security consequences of an exit, but Leave won by 52% to 48%.

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Brexit: Corbyn calls for ‘proper’ council funding after EU vote

Jeremy Corbyn has called for ‘proper funding of local authorities’ in the wake of the EU referendum results.

Speaking on BBC News this morning, the Labour leader warned ‘many communities are fed up with cuts’ and ‘feel very angry at the way they have been betrayed and marginalised by successive governments in very poor areas of the country’.

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Brexit: Local government facing ‘policy vacuum’

Local government has been warned to brace itself for further austerity measures and a possible shake-up of the devolution agenda, following the results of the EU referendum.

Law firm Bevan Brittan said the results will lead to a ‘policy vacuum’ in local government, especially if chancellor George Osborne – who has been at the heart of the devolution agenda - also steps down from office.

Local government partner at the firm, Bethan Evans, said: ‘The devolution agenda has been driven to a large extent personally by George Osborne as Chancellor - can this survive a change in his role?

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Brexit: Council leaders call for key role in replacing EU laws

Local Government must be given a 'seat around the table' when it comes to deciding how to replace EU laws, council leaders have insisted.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils would be central to bringing communities back together after the EU referendum campaign split the country in two, but they must also be part of the negotiation team.

In a statement following the UK’s decision to leave the union, the LGA said: 'EU laws and regulations impact on many council services, such as waste, employment, health and safety, consumer protection and trading and environmental standards.

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NHS boss says promise of £8bn in extra funding may be far from enough

Social care has deteriorated since the blueprint was published and will continue to do so for the next three years, he said. Organisations such as the Local Government Association, Age UK and the NHS Confederation – whose annual conference Stevens was addressing – have all said that the unmet need for social care, caused by Whitehall cuts to local council budgets, will continue to increase already heavy demand for NHS services, particularly A&E care and GP appointments. Patients are also having to stay longer in hospital than they should, despite being medically fit to leave.

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Think tank sets out new model for business rates reform

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) also claimed councils could face further losses if the Government scrapped the disproportionate growth levy, which could cost Whitehall almost £1bn over the next five years.

IPPR proposed a model where the increase in a council’s funding would be calculated by multiplying their business rates growth rate by their funding need.

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Brexit implications for local government

With just a few days to go until the UK’s referendum on membership of the European Union the Leave and Remain campaigns are stepping up a gear. But there are likely implications for local government if the UK votes to part company with the EU. Olwen Dutton explores the big issues for Room151.

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NAO: revenue budgets face ‘fundamental problem’ caused by servicing debt

The “pressure” placed on local revenue budgets by capital programmes is a “fundamental problem”, according to the National Audit Office.

Parliament’s spending watchdog made the comments in a report on council finances which concluded that the servicing of debt taken on to fund capital projects was a threat to revenue spending.

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Exclusive: New CIHT president calls Govt's devo approach 'unfair'

An expert in client and contractor engagement and the new president of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) has called the Government’s approach to devolution ‘unfair' and warned it may not deliver best value.

Speaking exclusively to Transport Network, Mr Rowsell conceded that the level of secrecy around devolution discussions and processes was not fair on the sector.

‘No. It’s not fair. The Government will claim that they want to be transparent and open but there appears to be an unwillingness to have that openness until they are very confident what the outcome will be, when it is too late,’

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National Procurement Strategy fails to deliver savings for councils

Three quarters of English councils have failed to find procurement savings following the launch of the National Procurement Strategy for local government, according to research.

Freedom of information requests found that, of the 248 councils who had reviewed their procurement procedures since the introduction of the NPS two years ago, 186 (75%) had either not identified savings or had no record of savings achieved.

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Business rates devolution ‘could fail to incentivise growth’

George Osborne’s plan to devolve business rates revenue to local authorities may fail because it does not provide enough incentive to poorer areas, an analysis has found.

An examination of the plan by think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research found poorer councils would face a “benefit trap” once rates are devolved from 2020.

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The Government has admitted it needs to improve its understanding of the capital resourcing issues facing English councils, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said.

In a new report, the NAO says the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) ‘has limited insight into broad changes in authorities’ capital resourcing and spending as well as associated risks’.

The issue has come to the fore recently due to Treasury plans for the 100% local retention of business rates by 2020, which has thrown up concerns over capital revenue divisions in the local government sector.

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Free childcare plans 'in jeopardy'

Plans to offer pre-schoolers in England 30 free hours of childcare may be in jeopardy if not enough childminders and nurseries offer places, MPs warn.

Next year, the current entitlement of three and four-year-olds to 15 hours of free care a week will be doubled.

"Private and voluntary providers report that the amount they currently get paid for providing free childcare is not enough to cover their costs and they therefore rely on charging parents for additional hours or other sources of income to meet them.

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Sponsors lose control of 119 failing academies

More than 100 failing academies have been removed from their sponsors and placed in new trusts, MPs have heard.

England's schools commissioner Sir David Carter told the Commons Education Committee 119 academies had been "re-brokered" as a last resort.

Some academies were performing no better than the failing schools from which they had taken over, he told MPs.

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Council smashes record with submission of accounts

Council has submitted its public sector accounts to the auditors in a record breaking nine days after the year end.

The council prepared its final accounts for 2015/16 and submitted them to the external auditors on 9 April 2016 - a full 12 weeks in advance of the statutory requirement of the 30 June.

This exceeds the performance of 94% of the FTSE 100, including the nine largest companies.

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100 per cent retention of business rates: issues for consideration

On 5 October 2015, at the Conservative Party Conference, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a ‘devolution revolution’: a commitment to allow local government collectively to retain 100 per cent of business rate revenue by the end of this Parliament and, to match the resulting additional local tax revenues, for it to take on “new responsibilities”. As a consequence, Revenue Support Grant, the main central government grant for local authorities, is to be phased out.

In the report, Devolution: the next five years and beyond, we described the reforms as a move in the right direction; being just one aspect of the range of fiscal powers that we would like to see devolved to local authorities and which we believe are essential to genuine devolution.

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Whitehall must tackle problems with reformed business rates system, warn MPs

The Government must address a ‘host of issues’, including problems with appeals and plans to withdraw Revenue Support Grant (RSG), before bringing in 100% business rates retention for councils, committee urges.

The Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee has published a report urging Whitehall to address problems with the chancellor’s plans to replace central government grants with 100% rention of locally raised business rates by 2020.

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Retail round table meets to discuss business rates

A cross-government group that is reviewing the impact of business rates on high street retailers has held its first meeting.

The retail round table has been formed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Treasury, the Department for Communities and Local Government and Department of Health to consider government moves to boost the high street.

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MPs criticise government over flood protection plans

MPs have criticised the Government for failing to protect communities at risk of flooding. The Environmental Audit Committee said there should be more long-term planning, rather than a reactive approach to flooding. It urged the Government to pay for the upkeep of existing flood defences and to invest in new ones. Cllr Peter Box, the LGA's Environment spokesman, said councils were doing all they could to reduce risks to residents, but need greater support from the Government. He said: "New measures that could make a positive difference include devolving new flood defence funding to local areas, further incentives for private sector investment in flood defences and mandatory flood-proof requirements for new homes and offices."

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NHS hit by rise in bed-blocking

Bed-blocking in hospitals is soaring because spending cuts have reduced care home places available to councils, according to the GMB union. Last year, NHS patient discharges were delayed by a total of 1.8 million days, compared with 1.3 million in 2012 – a rise of 32 per cent.

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Council leaders accuses Government of 'lack of honesty' over devo deals

North Somerset Council leader Cllr Nigel Ashton has launched a blistering attack on the Government’s ‘lack of honesty’ over devolution.

Cllr Ashton said Government pressure on regions to accept elected metro mayors as part of devolution deals showed the process had ‘always been about central control’ and called on ministers not to ‘treat us all like idiots’.

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DfT denies devo bias over sustainable transport funds

The Department for Transport has denied a Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) claim that its bid for sustainable transport funding failed because it does not have a devolution deal.

Last month the DfT announced the winners of £20.6m funding in its Sustainable Travel Transition Year’ 2016/17 revenue competition.

D2N2 LEP, which covers Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, complained that its £2.4m bid was unsuccessful because the area had so far failed to reach a devolution deal with ministers and ‘despite the authorities and the D2N2 area’s very strong track record in sustainable transport’.

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Exclusive: ADEPT's warnings over business rates devolution

Council directors have raised ‘serious concerns’ over any potential capital revenue division to the cash devolved to local government under chancellor George Osborne’s business rates plan.

‘Any removal of the barrier between revenue and capital funding will add more responsibility on to local authorities to make sustainable investment decisions and control borrowing requirements for transport projects, but we would be glad to see locally elected Members making these local decisions.’

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Counties call for Better Care Fund to be brought forward

County councils are calling for the funding in the Better Care Fund (BCF) to be brought forward to help reduce bed blocking.

Analysis from the County Councils Network (CCN) found a ‘significant’ increase in the number of days for patients waiting for a residential care home placement or care package in the past year.

County leaders are calling for the funding to be allocated to councils now rather than as planned in 2020 to help stabilise the care market.

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Hampshire councils fall out over 'underperforming' accusations

Councils in Hampshire have exchanged heated words, following disagreements on how best to change the structure of local government in the county.

Portsmouth and Southampton City Councils and some of the districts have backed plans to create a combined authority for the Solent area. However, Hampshire County Council said independent research shows a new unitary authority would be a better way of saving money and protecting public services.

In the latest dispute, the leaders of Portsmouth and Southampton City Councils have hit out after the leader of Hampshire County Council, cllr Roy Perry, said new responsibilities shouldn't be given to an underperforming area.

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MPs launch inquiry into financial sustainability of adult social care

An inquiry into whether local authorities can fulfill their statutory obligations with the funding available for adult social care has been launched today.

The Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee has launched the inquiry into the financial sustainability of local authority social care and the quality of care provided.

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Shared services the new normal in local government, says LGA

Shared services are so embedded across local authorities that they have now become standard practice, according to an assessment of their use.

The Local Government Association’s latest shared services map shows that the vast majority of councils are involved in shared services in some form.

The review found a wide variety of shared services arrangements, which, as well as traditional back office services such as human resources and finance transactions, included areas such as highways maintenance and Better Care Fund implementation.

These include the Devon Audit Partnership, which provides internal audit services across Devon County Council, Plymouth City Council and Torbay Council, and which has saved £2.3m since 2009.

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Councils ‘need more funding’ for child refugees care costs

A scheme to resettle unaccompanied children around the UK starts in July.

The government has agreed to take in more child refugees, including from the EU and 3,000 children and relatives from the Middle East and North Africa.

The Local Government Association says the number of spaces councils will make available will depend on funding.

At the moment children are looked after where they arrive, largely in Kent or near Heathrow airport.

Deputy leader of Hillingdon council, which cares for children who arrive at the airport, David Simmonds said: "Unless there's additional funding in the system we'll need to see either increases in council tax to pay for supporting refugee children or we'll see local councils cutting other services."

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Care Act failing as councils cut spending, warns disability charity

Research from Revitalise, a national disabled persons’ charity, found that in the year since the legislation came into effect in April 2015, over half (55%) of England’s local authorities had spent less overall on services for people with disabilities and carers.

Funding was down by an estimated £397m, according to freedom of information requests by the charity. This is despite the act – the biggest shake up to the system in decades – entitling all disabled people and carers to an assessment of their support needs alongside a minimum eligibility threshold for care.

Revitalise also found that local authorities gave fewer needs assessments for disabled people during the first year of the Care Act than in the year before it, and half (48%) had carried out an average of 22% fewer carer assessments during the same period.

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Councils await response after rejecting NHS claims for rates relief running to millions

A clutch of around 100 councils are waiting for NHS trusts to make their next move after rejecting a claim for backdated business rates relief worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

In January, Room151 revealed that property consultancy Bilfinger GVA issued demands to the councils for mandatory charitable relief on NHS property.

After receiving legal advice commissioned from the Local Government Association (LGA), the councils have written back, rejecting the claims.

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Losses from rent reductions ‘impossible to calculate’

Government proposals to exempt some councils from mandatory rent reductions on their social housing could founder because authorities can’t work out how much rent they will lose, according to experts.

Last week, the government published guidance for authorities who want to escape new rules announced last year that require social landlords to reduce social rents by 1% a year for four years from April 2016.

The government said that an opt-out would only be granted “where the local authority would be unable to avoid serious financial difficulties if it were to comply”.

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SEND pupils impacted by council budget cuts

The Key, an organisation providing leadership and management support to schools, talked to 1,100 school leaders who reported far-reaching and systemic issues in the support currently available to children with SEND.

The findings revealed 82% of schools have insufficient funding and budget to adequately provide for SEND pupils, and 89% school leaders have seen the support they receive for these children affected detrimentally by cuts to local authorities’ services.

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School funding to fall by 5% in per pupil terms

School funding per pupil is set to fall by 5.5% over this parliament according to an analysis of the impact of government reforms by the think-tank Reform.

It analysed the government’s school funding plans, including the extra £500m of additional core funding allocated to schools at the Budget as part of proposed changesto the funding formula. It found overall funding for schools would increase over the next five years.

This followed a Conservative election pledge to protect the Dedicated Schools Grant, the main source of school income, in cash terms per pupil, as well as the Pupil Premium.

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Council chiefs fearful of service failures in next three years

PwC’s annual Local State We’re In survey revealed that only 13% of chief executives felt they could maintain delivery of essential services until the end of this Parliament under the burden of austerity.

The consultancy firm also warned of ‘devolution fatigue’ after the survey revealed optimism about the sector grasping more powers from Whitehall had waned from 33% to just 20% since the general election last year.

Although seven in 10 believed they would be part of a combined authority by 2020, just over one in three thought it would have an elected mayor.

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More fiscal freedoms would ‘reduce the risk’ in business rates devolution

The government’s proposals to devolve 100% of business rates to local authorities could increase volatility and risk without further fiscal freedoms, according to the Core Cities group.

The group, representing the UK’s ten biggest cities outside of London, said that devolution measures announced already by the government make the case for further fiscal freedoms even stronger.

It said that, while a step in the right direction, the proposed business rate reforms will not allow councils without elected mayors to increase the rate. It added that a lack of clarity surrounds proposed compensation for an increase in Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) from 50% to 100%.

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County faces legal challenge over cuts to children's centres

The parents of children at the centres have launched a legal bid, arguing the council has broken the law by targeting the children’s centres for cuts in a bid to meet its funding shortfall.

However, the Oxfordshire CC claims the judicial review is ‘legally an factually misconceived’.

In a statement it said: ‘Their case is that local authorities cannot take any service delivery decisions which are firm for more than one financial year & cannot plan ahead of that. That is obviously not the law.

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North-south school funding gap revealed

A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has found that secondary schools in London receive on average £1,300 more per pupil than in the north of England, despite high levels of disadvantage in the north. The national funding formula for schools is currently under review, and the report calls for this to address the gap to avoid having a negative impact on the Northern Powerhouse. It is also highlighted that the “early years gap” between children from poorer and wealthier families is almost twice as large in the north than in London, and attainment in northern secondary schools is a cause for concern. However, northern primary schools are performing well, with some local authorities achieving levels of attainment for disadvantaged children that rival London.

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England's traffic volumes pass pre-recession peak

New statistics published by the Department for Transport (DfT) estimate that 271.1 billion vehicle miles were driven on the country’s roads in 2015, exceeding the previous peak of 269.9 billion vehicle miles in 2007.

Traffic was shared broadly equally across the Strategic Road Network, local authority major roads, and local authority minor roads.

A total of 89.7 billion vehicle miles were travelled on Highways England’s motorways and 'A' roads, with 87.8 and 93.6 billion vehicle miles respectively on council major and minor roads.

However, despite carrying nearly a third of total traffic, Highways England’s 4,443 miles of road represents around 5% of the national total of 187,951 miles

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Council leaders call for urgent reform of business rates appeal system

As part of the Local Growth and Jobs Bill, announced in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, local authorities will be able to retain 100% of their business rates income by 2020. Mayoral authorities will also have the power to raise additional funding for infrastructure.

The LGA said it welcomed the move, but has called for an ‘urgent’ reform of the business rates appeals system. It also wants any extra income received by councils should match any new responsibilities or transferred grants they agree to take on.

Cllr Claire Kober, the LGA’s resources portfolio holder, said: ‘Almost 900,000 businesses have challenged their business rates bill since 2010. Councils have been forced to divert at least £1.75bn from stretched local services in the past three years to cover the risk of these appeals and backdated refunds - of which they have to cover half the cost of at present.

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LGA: Power over buses should be given to all councils

The proposed bus services bill unveiled in yesterday's Queen's Speech will limit powers to franchise services to areas with directly elected mayors.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) says giving such powers to all local authoritiies will help them deal with big predicted increases in road traffic and provide better services.

Cllr Peter Box, LGA transport spokesman, said bus subsidies should also be devolved to councils.

He said giving councils control over the Bus Service Operators' Grant – a fuel duty rebate paid directly to bus operators by the Government – would help them support vital routes and the roll-out of smart ticketing.

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Sport England unveils £250m plan to tackle inactivity

Sport England has pledged to spend £250m over the next five years to help tackle inactivity.

It has published its five-year strategy today, which will include greater focus on groups who typically do less activity such as women, disabled people and those on low incomes.

Sport England will also set up a new fund for family based activities, and will partner up with 10 places in England to pilot new ways of working locally.

Chief executive of Sport England, Jennie Price, said: ‘In the next four years we’re going to dedicate more time, expertise and over £250m to tackling inactivity. We will be the single largest national investor in projects for people to whom sport and physical activity is a distant thought, or not even on their radar.

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Crisis-hit care homes leave thousands of beds empty

More than 7,000 beds in care homes were deregistered last year, compared to just 3,000 new beds becoming available, representing the largest net loss for a decade. The figures were compiled by business analysts Laing and Buisson, who warned that local authorities would struggle to find places for elderly people in their care as the prices paid for places by councils did not cover costs, particularly following the introduction of the National Living Wage.

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£821m spent on supply teachers last year

Analysis by BBC News shows the equivalent of £168 was spent on each child in order to hire in extra staff to cover vacancies and absences.

Teachers unions say the amount of money spent reflects a "serious teacher recruitment and retention crisis".

The government said the number of quality teachers was at a record high.

The latest data for schools in England shows spending on supply teachers accounted for 6% of the total amount spent on teaching staff wages. The overall figure spent on supply teachers fell by £18m on the previous year.

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Older pensioners more likely to be living in poverty, warns charity

A new report from Independent Age has examined the income disparities between different groups of pensioners. It found that those aged over 75 were more likely to live in persistent poverty than younger pensioners, with 950,000 people living in poverty.

Of these pensioners, an estimated three quarters of a million over 75s are failing to clam the Pension Credit they are entitled to.

‘It would be foolish to assume that inequality simply ceases to exist at retirement age, but that is exactly what some of the recent rhetoric around "intergenerational unfairness" does. The Silent Generation of older pensioners, renters and single women have missed out on many of the gains of recent years.’

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Universities and councils to collaborate in local growth pilots

Pilots of the Leading Places Project, which are funded by £48,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, will see university vice chancellors and council chief executives and leaders meet and agree on local priorities.

The Local Government Association will also work with the pilots and evaluate their performance.

Mark Hawthorne, chair of the LGA’s people and places board and leader of Gloucestershire County Council, said cooperating with universities will give councils access to greater expertise and research opportunities.

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Plea for funding to cope with child refugees

Council leaders, children's services and foster carer networks have called on the Government to properly resource local authorities to cope with a rise in unaccompanied child asylum seekers entering Britain. A national dispersal scheme will go ahead by July 1, but the Home Office has yet to provide details on how it will work. Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA's Asylum, Refugee and Migration Task Group, warned existing funding is also inadequate to meet the needs of often traumatised children. He said: "It's simple. We know it costs £50,000 on average a year to support a child in care. We want to make sure children are properly supported, with foster carers and schools. Britain will cope. But the more children that come and the sooner they come, the more money is necessary." Dave Hill, President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, has told Government "we need to get our skates on" to finalise the details while the Fostering Network said, despite cuts affecting foster carers, taking in more child refugees can be a "manageable challenge" if the scheme is run properly.

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Academy future for all schools still probable, says think-tank

Examining last week’s revision to the government’s plan, CentreForum said that, although the government would not force all local authority maintained schools to become academies, there were other policies that were likely to lead to full academisation.

These include: the continuation of the converter academies programme, where high-performing schools submit applications to become academies, often joining multi-academy trusts; and powers in the Education and Adoption Act to tackle underperformance. In the past month, the Department for Education said, it had issued over 100 academy orders to schools rated as inadequate.

The third route of forced academisation for all schools includes three elements. While education secretary Nicky Morgan has said that ministers will not force individual schools to convert regardless of circumstances, other powers in the government’s education white paper were likely to continue the trends, CentreForum stated.

These include powers to direct schools to become academies in underperforming local authority areas or where the council is judged not to have the capacity to maintain its schools because of previous conversions.

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Housing and Planning Bill set for Royal Assent

The Housing and Planning Bill cleared its final hurdle in Parliament yesterday as ministers rejected amendments to ensure councils can replace housing sold to fund the Right to Buy extension and peers were forced to give up their battle. Lord Kerslake, who was accused of trying to block a manifesto pledge by the Prime Minister, warned the House of Lords that the “sums simply do not add up” around the policy and that it would wipe out genuinely affordable homes. Peers inflicted 19 defeats on the Bill pushing it right up to the end of the Parliamentary year today.

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Bucks to consider single unitary council

Cabinet members yesterday approved a proposal to develop a business case to examine how local government could be reorganised for the benefit of the county’s residents and businesses.

The council says it will place high-quality, cost-effective services for residents and businesses across Buckinghamshire and a strong and accountable local leadership at the centre of its considerations.

Leader of the council, Martin Tett said: ‘The business case that cabinet has agreed today to develop will show how a single unitary council would streamline and simplify services for residents – something that is long overdue and that residents certainly tell us they want.

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County appoints experts to explore new models of local government

The accountancy firm will explore what new structure provides the best value for money while protecting frontline services, including a single unitary authority.

‘I am convinced local government needs to change in Oxfordshire, and it is vital that we make the right decision to protect council services for the future,’ said council leader, Ian Hudspeth.

‘The key issue for me is not about structures but more about how we can join up services efficiently to provide the best possible services for the people of Oxfordshire.’

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Government climbdown over forced academies plan in England

Plans to force all of England's schools to become academies are being abandoned in a government climbdown.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan hopes the concessions will meet the demands of Tory rebels opposed to compelling high-performing schools to convert.

This was about the government listening, she said, adding ministers understood top schools should retain the choice on whether to convert.

The move comes days after threats of industrial action by head teachers.

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Councils 'should get foreign aid cash for taking in child refugees'

Britain's £12 billion foreign aid budget should be partly spent at home to help councils take in lone child refugees, MPs said yesterday. David Cameron dropped his opposition to the resettlement of unaccompanied children who have made their way into Europe. The Government is now facing calls to divert some of the foreign aid budget to local authorities and resettlement programmes in the UK. The LGA said each child in care costs around £50,000 a year.

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Alcohol consumption has increased in retirees, Government figures reveal

Public Health England’s (PHE) most recent data on alcohol consumption in the UK shows alcohol-specific hospital admissions in under 18s fell by 8.6% in 2014/15.

They also found the rate of alcohol-related admissions are falling in the under 40s for both males and females but rising in the over 65s for both genders, with rates being highest in the middle age range (40-64).

Hospital admissions for alcoholic liver disease continue to rise, and cancer incidences relating to alcohol have also seen a gradual upward trend in the past decade.

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Right to Buy extension to cost councils £26m a year

Whitehall’s flagship policy, a part of the Housing and Planning Bill, will force councils to sell some of their properties on the open market once they become vacant.

The housing charity Shelter estimates this will lead to 23,500 council homes being sold off across the country in just one year.

The cash subsequently raised by the sales would go towards funding discounts of up to £100,000 for housing association tenants taking up the Right to Buy.

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Labour blasts 'disgraceful' cuts to deprived councils

Labour has accused the Government of making the smallest budget cuts to councils in the constituencies of key cabinet members.

The analysis found Wokingham BC, Surrey CC and Windsor and Maidenhead RBC had seen the lowest budget cuts despite being the least deprived areas in the country.

These areas also cover the constituencies of home secretary Theresa May, health secretary Jeremy Hunt, leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling, justice secretary Michael Gove and foreign secretary Philip Hammond.

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Research warns of 'grim' outlook for council spending

Councils may be unable to fund services such as parks, highways and refuse collections by the end of the decade, under concerns unveiled in a new report.

Research from APSE and NPI warns that by 2020, capital spending by local government will be at its lowest level since 1948.

The report, 'Sustainable local government finance and liveable local areas: Can we survive to 2020?’ reveals that council tax will account for at least half the money coming in to all English local authorities by 2020.

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Minister prepares to back track on academies plan

The Government could be preparing to back down on its plans to convert all council-run schools into academies.

According to newspaper reports, education secretary Nicky Morgan will allow some councils will be able to run their own multi-academy trusts.

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Local authority schools outperform academies, research suggests

The government’s plan to force all schools to become academies has come under further attack with research which suggests that council-maintained schools outperform academies at inspection.

Analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) has found that 86% of local authority schools are rated good or outstanding by the schools watchdog, Ofsted, compared with 82% of academies and 79% of free schools.

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Doubling of free childcare 'could force nurseries to close'

Nearly 750 childcare providers say they fear being put out of business by government plans to double free hours, says the Pre-school Learning Alliance.

In 2017, free care for three-and four-year-olds will rise from 15 to 30 hours in each term-time week.

But childcare providers say the scheme is underfunded, and 49% of 1,500 who chose to respond to an online survey said they could be forced to close.

Ministers say many providers are keen to take part in the scheme. 

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PMQs: Cameron vows to 'finish the job' on academies

David Cameron has defended controversial plans to force all state schools in England to become academies, saying it is time to "finish the job".

During Prime Minister's Questions, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn cited opposition to the "top down reorganisation" from teachers, parents and some Tory MPs. He said good schools should not be distracted by "arbitrary changes".

Sources said the government was likely to guarantee no small rural schools would close as a result of the shakeup.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg has been told ministers are having lots of conversations with Conservative MPs to tackle their concerns - but are not intending to back down on the policy.

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Four-year settlement unaffected by Budget, confirms Clark

Communities secretary Greg Clark has reassured the sector after concerns were raised that the planned £3.5bn cuts to public services would mean financial uncertainty for councils for the next few years.

Chair of the communities and local government committee, Clive Betts, said: ‘Following the move to 100% retention of business rates by 2020 and the multi-billion efficiency savings announced by the chancellor in his Budget, I’m pleased the secretary of state has confirmed that the four-year settlements for local councils are still valid.

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Councils seek power to expand class sizes ahead of academisation plan

Local authorities in England say they want new powers to provide classroom places if the Government presses ahead with plans to turn all schools into academies, as families wait to hear today if their preferred primary schools have room for their children. A Department for Education document showed that of 121 local authorities, 49 estimated that the proportion of preferences offered to families would be the same as last year while 40 said it was likely to be better. But a quarter of councils said the position was likely to be worse. The LGA said it was concerned councils were still legally responsible for ensuring all children were offered a school place, but that under the education White Paper they will have no powers to directly create places to meet shortages. Cllr Roy Perry, Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board said: “If proposals within the education White Paper go forward, and all schools convert to academies, councils must be given powers to force schools to expand where this is in the best interests of new and existing pupils. Most academies will be keen to work with their local authorities but in the minority of situations where this isn’t the case, appropriate powers are vital to ensure all children get a suitable place.”

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Foreign aid to overtake council funding

Foreign aid spending will overtake the amount of funding given to councils to collect bins, install street lights and run local services for the first time next year, official government figures show. Forecasts in the Treasury’s Budget book reveal that spending on international development will hit £9.3 billion in 2017/18 – overtaking local government spending of £8.2 billion that year. Tory MPs questioned whether at a time when councils are under “massive pressure” from cuts it was right to be spending “shedload of taxpayers’ money” on foreign aid. An LGA spokesman said: “The next few years will continue to be a challenge. While extra council tax flexibilities will help some councils offset some of the funding pressures they face, it will not prevent the need for further cutbacks to local services. Many will continue to have to make significant reductions to local services to plug funding gaps.”

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Councils face fines of £5,000 a day for abandoned roadworks

Councils and utility companies that leave roadworks with no repairs taking place during the weekend will be fined under a government crackdown. They face penalties of up to £5,000 a day amid warnings that unnecessary traffic restrictions place a huge burden on the economy. An estimated two million roadwork projects were taking place on A-roads each year, with drivers often stuck for hours in slow-moving traffic, the DfT said. Under the new measures, which will apply to all local A-roads in England, works by utility firms and councils must be carried out seven days a week or be lifted on Friday evenings. Temporary traffic lights must be taken down as soon as the work is completed. An LGA spokesman said: “Councils know how frustrating it is for motorists to be delayed by roadworks and are doing everything they can to minimise disruption. However, roadworks are often carried out to address issues which make motorists’ journeys easier — like mending potholes, of which there is a substantial backlog to be repaired.”

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Gap in funding between richest and poorest schools doubled in 20 years, IFS says

Over the past 20 years Government spending on schools in England has become increasingly focused on facilities with pupils from poorer backgrounds, according to the IFS.

In 2013/14, spending per pupil in the 20% of secondary schools with the poorest pupils (£7,400) was £1,800 more than spending per pupil in the richest 20% (£5,600).

This gap in funding, researchers from the Institute of Fiscal Studies say, is double what it was in the late 1990s. It is roughly 30% now as opposed to the 15% it was 20 years ago.

For primary schools this difference has grown from 10% to 25%.

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Town halls using parking charges to raise cash

Local authorities are collecting increasing amounts of revenue from parking charges, despite a court ruling forbidding the use of such charges as a form of taxation.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request, submitted by the RAC, revealed councils’ revenues from residents’ parking schemes have seen ‘massive increases’ in recent years.

The FoI requests show the revenue collected ranges from a few thousand pounds a year to nearly £3m in the case of the London Borough of Lambeth.

In 2013, residents of the north London borough of Barnet successfully challenged their council’s sharp increase in parking permit charges from £40 to £100 and vouchers for visitors from £1 to £4.

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The road to self-sufficiency

By 2020 grants from Whitehall would have dried up, and councils will be forced to rely on the cash they can raise themselves. Traded services is one response to this tough, new world. In essence, it involves councils morphing into agile commercial actors and offering their services on the open market at competitive rates. This way, the argument goes, they will be able to generate their own income, becoming, in effect, public sector entrepreneurs.

Essex County Council is one such ‘entrepreneurial council’. I spoke to Jonathan Coyle, the director of the council’s Traded Development team, in order to learn more. ‘Traded services is the team that looks at opportunities for us to generate profitable revenue for the council,’ he explains, ‘and that profitable revenue is then reinvested into frontline services.’ This, he argues, can help councils balance their budgets.

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Local Council Tax support schemes: an independent review

On 2 December 2014 Marcus Jones MP announced the appointment of Eric Ollerenshaw OBE to lead an independent review into local Council Tax support schemes.

The review was charged with meeting the requirements set out in the Local Government Finance Act 2012, to look at whether the schemes are efficient, effective, fair and transparent, consider their impact on the localism agenda, and to make recommendations as to whether or not the schemes should be brought within Universal Credit.

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Cash for councils to fill almost 1 million potholes

Motorists and cyclists are set to benefit after the government announced how £50 million of funding will repair nearly 1 million potholes across the country over the next 12 months.

Over 100 councils in England will receive funding to help remove around 943,000 potholes from local roads during this financial year. The funding has been made available as part of the £250 million Pothole Action Fund included in last month’s Budget, which will fix over 4 million potholes by 2020/21.

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Highways maintenance funding: incentive element, 2016 to 2017

Information on the Local Highways Maintenance Incentive Fund. The documents include:

  • guidance and indicative allocations about the fund
  • the questionnaire used by authorities
  • details of the individual allocations of the incentive element for the Highways Maintenance Block for 2016/17

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£50m pothole fund denounced as 'complete madness'

The Department for Transport has published the breakdown for the first year of the £250m Pothole Action Fund, which will run from 2016/17 to 2020/21. It said this will allow councils to fix nearly 1 million potholes over the next year, based on a cost of £53 per pothole.

Some county councils will receive over £1m from the fund next year, with smaller councils receiving as little as £43,000.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: ‘Almost every journey starts and ends on a local road, so the government is giving councils £250 million specifically to tackle the blight of potholes in their area.’

However, council leaders gave the announcement a lukewarm reception and called for ‘long-term and consistent funding’ to invest in resurfacing projects.

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Whitehall should invest '230 times' more to tackle potholes, says LGA

Whitehall announced today it will release £50m from the £250m Pothole Action Fund to repair up to one million holes over the next 12 months.

The money will go to 100 English councils.

The Local Government Association (LGA) warned, however, local authorities need much more to cover the billions it will cost to improve local infrastructure.

'While £50m is a step in the right direction,' Cllr Martin Tett, LGA Transport spokesman, said, 'councils need more than 230 times that amount to cover the £11.8bn cost to bring our roads up to scratch.'

He continued: 'The money announced today will help those councils receiving it to tackle potholes, but it would not even completely cover the cost of the £69m faced by the average authority to bring its roads up to a reasonable condition.'

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Right to buy amendment causes concern over forced sale of housing stock

Councils could be forced to sell their housing stock by the secretary of state, after changes were made to the wording of the Housing and Planning Bill.

Originally, councils would have been expected to sell their ‘high value’ properties to fund the extension of right to buy to housing association tenants. However, the wording has now been changed to ‘higher value,’ sparking fears that more homes would fall within the definition.

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Town halls receive funding to develop digital solutions

Councils receive hundreds of thousands of pounds in funding to support digital transformation schemes aimed at improving local services.

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South East to receive five times more funding than the North per head for flood defences

The south-east of England is to receive five times more money per head for flood defences in the coming years than parts of the north which suffered some of the worst damage during last winter’s series of storms, an analysis of Government figures has revealed.

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Winter floods cost councils £250m, says LGA

Almost £250m worth of damage to roads, bridges, public rights of way and drainage systems was caused by this winter's floods, a survey has found.

The Local Government Association's analysis warns of the cost to councils in England and Wales after Storms Desmond and Eva. It called for more financial help from the government as the cost was likely to be "much higher". The government says it has announced an extra £130m to repair infrastructure.

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Libraries lose a quarter of staff as hundreds close

Almost 8,000 jobs in UK libraries have disappeared in six years, about a quarter of the overall total, an investigation by the BBC has revealed.

Over the same period, some 15,500 volunteers have been recruited and 343 libraries have closed, leading to fears over the future of the profession.

Children's author Alan Gibbons said the public library service faced the "greatest crisis in its history".

The government said it funded the roll-out of wi-fi to help libraries adapt.

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Councils face £11.8bn bill to bring roads up to scratch

The total repair backlog on the local road network in England and Wales fell slightly in the last year, but still stands at £11.8bn according to the annual survey of local authorities.

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Greg Clark offers communities multi-billion pound offer to boost local growth

England’s 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships will be able to apply for a share of £1.8 billion to support projects in their areas.

Local leaders wanting to boost skills, support business and build more homes will be offered the chance to apply for the latest round of Growth Deals worth billions of pounds, Greg Clark said today (22 March 2016).

The Communities Secretary said the deals would boost the chances of areas securing significant inward investment from overseas – he will today chair an historic summit with Chinese regional leaders to highlight the opportunities available across the country.

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MPs approve Chancellor George Osborne's Budget

MPs have approved the Budget after Chancellor George Osborne was forced to shelve planned cuts to disability benefits.

The changes had led to a rift in the Tory Party and the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith from the cabinet.

Ahead of the vote, Mr Osborne defended his handling of the economy, but told MPs that where mistakes were made he was ready "to listen and learn".

The Budget was accepted by 310 votes to 275, a government majority of 35.

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Local government reacts to Budget 2016

Read LocalGov's round-up of local government's reaction to the Budget 2016 announcement here.

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Outgoing council chief executive says he 'longs' for the day council is scrapped

Issuing a statement as he prepares to leave the council, Mr Williams has called for the 'wholesale shake-up' of local government in Buckinghamshire and other areas that have yet to embraced a unitary arrangement.

Mr Williams said he recommended adopting a unitary model of local government for Buckinghamshire back in 2007, but at the last minute councillors decided not to back the plans. To this day he remains convinced that unitary councils 'work brilliantly' and can save million of pounds and reduce the duplication of services.

In a statement, he wrote: 'The two-tier system of local government made sense in 1974 when it was introduced, and even back then it replaced the equivalent of 15 existing councils down to the five we have today. But more than 40 years on, the two-tier system has become outdated, not fit for purpose and far too expensive to run. '

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'Black hole' in academy plan, claims Labour

Labour says it has identified a £560 million "black hole" in the Government's plan to force all schools in England to become academies. Labour calculates the cost of conversion per school comes to £44,837. On top of this, local authorities also incur legal costs and are also liable for schools' budget deficits when they convert to academy status. The Budget allocated £640 million over four years to be split between meeting the cost of full academisation and the funding of a new formula for schools in England.  But Labour said £500 million of this is earmarked for the new national funding formula leaving just £140 million for academisation. The Government said the figures were “way off the mark”. Cllr Roy Perry, Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said councils had "been forced to spend millions of pounds to cover the cost of schools becoming academies in recent years". He added: “With mixed evidence about academisation improving standards, and when public spending is facing significant cuts, imposing academisation on schools regardless of local opinion cannot be an appropriate use of public money.” The LGA’s response to the Budget plans for forced academisation were referenced on BBC Question Time last night.

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School parent governors to be scrapped

Unions have warned that parents will be sidelined from the running of schools after the Education White Paper announced that roles for parent governors will be abolished in favour of professionals with skills such as business or finance. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Voices of parents, governors and the local community are being silenced by a government that does not believe in proper democratic accountability in our schools.” The Government’s announcement that all schools are to be turned into academies continued to raise concerns, with Hampshire County Council’s Executive Member for Education stating he was “horrified” that the council’s role in education was to be scrapped.

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IFS warns on dark outlook for public finances

In its annual review of the Budget, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned the NHS and school budgets will face significant cuts – despite being ring-fenced – because they have a plug a “growing black hole” in the pensions of public sector workers. It comes as the Government will add an extra £2 billion a year to cost of “unfunded” public sector pensions. The IFS has also warned the Chancellor only has a 50/50 chance of balancing the nations books by 2020. A new tax on sugary drinks could actually increase the amount of sugar people consume as they switch to chocolate bars instead, it warned. It highlighted the fact that 17 per cent of added sugar in people’s diets comes from soft drinks and warned the levy could lead to a black market in sugary drinks.

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Going digital offers councils £14.7bn in savings

Councils could make as much £14.7bn in savings through greater digitisation of services, a review by the Public Service Transformation Network and the think-tank Nesta has found.

The Connected Councils report found that making local authorities and their services digital by default by 2025 would improve the delivery of services amid tightening budgets as well as significantly benefit local communities.

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Budget 2016: Services at risk as business rate cut reduces town hall revenue

Hundreds of thousands of small shops and firms will no longer have to pay business rates from April next year in a move that critics warn could lead to further cuts in local council services.

In a surprise move George Osborne announced that around 600,000 small firms will become exempt for local taxes altogether saving them each around £6,000 a year.

But with the £6.7bn revenues from such taxes now being devolved to councils some local authority leaders and charities warned the initiative could result in further public-sector spending cuts.

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Budget takes small firms out of business rates

This extension of relief is expected to lower revenues by over £1.5bn in 2017/18, and over £1.4bn in each of the next three years compared to previous forecasts.

In 2020/21, the year Osborne has pledged to localise revenues to local government, the chancellor announced that the annual indexation would move from the retail prices index measure of inflation to the lower consumer prices index, which is expected to reduce revenue by £370m.

Overall, the changes announced today are expected to reduce the business rates yield by around £1.95bn in the year that it is devolved to councils, according to the Red Book. The Budget documents says local authorities will be compensated for the loss of income as a result of the business rates changes, with the impact considered as part of the government’s consultation on the implementation of 100% business rate retention in the summer.

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Budget brings fresh cuts, both direct and indirect, for public services

The public sector is bracing itself for prolonged austerity as Osborne blames a worsening global economic backdrop and a “dangerous cocktail of risk” faced by the UK.

The decision to pursue further spending cuts also came as Osborne admitted he had missed a target for reducing government debt and as the Office for Budget Responsibility revised the UK’s growth down to 2.0% for 2016, down from 2.4% in the Autumn Statement.

“The OBR now tells us the world has become more uncertain,” the chancellor said. “So we have two options. We can ignore the latest information, and spend more than the country can afford. That’s precisely the mistake that was made a decade ago.

“Or we can live in the world as it is, and cut our cloth accordingly. I say we act now, so we don’t pay later.”

The savings will be achieved by a further “drive for efficiency and value for money” undertaken by chief secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands and paymaster general Matthew Hancock.

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Council smashes record with submission of accounts

Westminster City Council has submitted its public sector accounts to the auditors in a record breaking nine days after the year end.

The council prepared its final accounts for 2015/16 and submitted them to the external auditors on 9 April 2016 - a full 12 weeks in advance of the statutory requirement of the 30 June.

This exceeds the performance of 94% of the FTSE 100, including the nine largest companies.

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100 per cent retention of business rates: issues for consideration

On 5 October 2015, at the Conservative Party Conference, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a ‘devolution revolution’: a commitment to allow local government collectively to retain 100 per cent of business rate revenue by the end of this Parliament and, to match the resulting additional local tax revenues, for it to take on “new responsibilities”.1 As a consequence, Revenue Support Grant, the main central government grant for local authorities, is to be phased out.

In the report, Devolution: the next five years and beyond, we described the reforms as a move in the right direction; being just one aspect of the range of fiscal powers that we would like to see devolved to local authorities and which we believe are essential to genuine devolution. 

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