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News Headlines

 

Public Sector Pay Still Below Pre-Crash Levels

Real pay remains below pre-financial crisis wage levels for private and public sector employees, according to findings from the VocaLink Take Home Pay Index.

Public sector workers have seen their wages fall in the three months to the end of March 2014 both in comparison to the same period a year ago and in 2008. Government employees were £15.39 and £127.31 respectively worse off.

This is despite FTSE 350 workers being £21.73 per month better off on average in the three months to the end of March 2014, compared to the same period last year.

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Watchdog Could Launch Homecare Review

Council commissioning of homecare could come under the spotlight in a review by a health watchdog.

A report to a meeting of the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) board this morning revealed that health ministers may ask the organisation to carry out a thematic review in 2014/15.

Cuts to social care budgets have forced many councils to ration homecare services in ever-smaller chunks of time.

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Tory Council Leader Urges Pickles to Keep Emergency Fund

A council leader has written to communities secretary Eric Pickles warning him that scrapping emergency welfare support will drive vulnerable people into the hands of loan sharks.

Louise Goldsmith of West Sussex Council said the move was counter productive and would lead to greater problems in the future.

Earlier this year the Government announced the £347m Local Welfare Assistance fund, which provides emergency support for families in crisis, would not be renewed after 2015.

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Other Headlines

Survey Reveals 89% Want Councils in Charge of New Schools

A new poll has revealed overwhelming public support for councils to take back the power to open new schools.

The Local Government Association (LGA) survey found 89% of people in England believe the power to build and maintain new schools should be returned to local authorities.

Councils ceded control over who provides new schools following the Academies Act 2010 and the final say now lies with the education secretary.

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Councillors Blamed for Slow Move Online

A lack of support from councillors is hindering local authorities’ moves to deliver services online, a new survey has found.

More than three-quarters of respondents from across 49 local authorities blamed councillors for slow progress in their channel shift programmes.

Two-thirds of respondents said councillors were concerned that going digital excluded residents.

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Confidence in NHS Finances Dipping, Says King’s Fund

A financial crisis in the NHS is drawing closer, with one in eight trusts and clinical commissioning groups likely to have overspent their budgets for the year just ended, the King’s Fund has said.

Its latest quarterly monitoring report included a survey of NHS finance directors, which found that just 40% of those in hospitals and other providers were confident that their organisation would achieve financial balance in 2014/15. This figure falls to 16% when they are asked about their expectations for 2015/16.

Finance directors working in CCGs, however, were slightly more upbeat, although only a third were confident that they would balance their books in 2015/16.

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Our Place Neighbourhood Budgets Rolled Out Further

More than 120 communities are to be given greater control over local public services as part of the expansion of the government’s neighbourhood Community Budgets scheme.

Communities minister Stephen Williams has announced that 123 areas would be included in the second phase of the Our Place initiative, which was first revealed last year.

The programme brings local people, councillors and service providers together to identify where improvements could be made to local services. The £4.3m expansion follows the completion of 12 pilot schemes in an initial phase. 

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Complaints about Elderly Care up by a Third in a Year Following Budget Cuts

Elderly care in the UK is getting worse, according to new figures showing a dramatic rise in the number of people reporting that the quality of help given to their relatives is unacceptable.

The Good Care Guide, an online forum where the public can post honest opinions of care providers, has seen the proportion of negative reviews surge by a third in a year. In the first three months of last year, 19 per cent of all reviews posted on the site described care of the elderly services as “poor” or “bad”. In the same period this year, the proportion of negative reviews had leapt to 30 per cent.

The bad reviews give a shocking insight into the degrading and perfunctory “care” that many elderly people have been forced to accept.

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A Quarter of State Schools Ask Parents to Buy their Children Textbooks

Parents at one in four state schools are being asked to pay for their children’s text books and revision materials, according to a report out today.

A survey of 500 teachers in schools throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, revealed 26 per cent said their school had asked parents to pay for such essentials.

In addition, nine out of 10 said their schools asked for contributions towards the cost of school trips related to the compulsory curriculum, although most acknowledged their schools would help those who could not afford to pay.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “With budgets squeezed now, more than ever schools and colleges are having to rely on parents or carers to help pay for resources and activities that support the curriculum."

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Poll Finds Support for Extra Council Powers

More people believe that councils in England should be given extra powers than are satisfied with their town halls’ current responsibilities, a poll for the IPPR North think-tank has found.

According to a poll for the think-tank by YouGov, 39% of 3,600 people polled said local authorities in England should have more powers. Less than one-third (30%) said the current system should not change, while 14% said councils should have fewer powers, and 17% said they didn’t know.

Support for greater powers is strongest in the North East and the North West of England, where IPPR said there was a need for stronger political leadership and spending powers for local areas.

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Street Light Switch-Off Called the ‘Insidious Threat’ to Road Safety

The reduction in night-time road accidents has been hampered by councils turning off street lights, according to new research by the AA.

The research shows that night-time accidents in bad weather on 30 mph urban roads have been reduced by 15.6% over the past five years. However, when street lights are switched off or not present, this figure is 2.0%.

The AA is urging the Government to speed up the use of the £200m challenge fund to help councils switch to more energy efficient lighting that can stay on all night.

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Call for Devolution of Minimum Wage Enforcement

The mayor of Newham has called on the Government to devolve enforcement of the minimum wage from HM Revenue and Customs to local authorities.

Sir Robin Wales said many people did not realise that there was a ‘hidden economy’ operating in the UK in which workers were still not receiving the National Minimum Wage.

He said: ‘It is a disgrace that laws introduced to prevent poverty pay are so poorly monitored and enforced.

‘Local enforcement powers would enable us to build a thriving local economy full of opportunities for our residents to get into good quality employment.’

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87,000 Households Living in Fear of the Bailiffs after Council Tax Support is Axed

Tens of thousands of struggling council tax payers are being chased by bailiffs after a shock rise in bills.

A staggering 600,000 householders have been summonsed to court and 87,000 – including many disabled people, war widows and carers – are being pursued by debt collectors for failing to pay the tax.

The hardship has been caused by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who slashed council tax benefit last year by £500million.

His disastrous decision, dubbed the new Poll Tax, means an estimated 2.2million people who did not previously have to pay are now liable for between 10% and 30% of the full bill. This works out at an average of £200 a year more for austerity-hit households to find.



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Government Waives Council Tax until Flood-Hit Families Return

Around 250 families still flooded out of their homes in the Westcountry will be exempt from paying council tax until they return to their property, the Government has announced.


Ministers originally offered a three-month council tax dispensation to flood-hit homes, but has now announced it will waive the levy for as long as those still affected are unable to return.

The Department for Communities and Local Government estimates the support will cost £6 million – or £2million more than was originally set aside.

Local authority estimates suggest 225 families in the Avon and Somerset area are still flooded out, reflecting the fact much of the Somerset Levels was underwater for weeks. A further 12 domestic properties in Devon and five in Cornwall have been temporarily abandoned.


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LibDems Propose Extra Council Tax Bands

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has proposed the creation of extra council tax bands to implement the Liberal Democrats’ proposed mansion tax.

In a speech in London on tax policy, Alexander said the current system of council tax where the highest band applied to homes with a rateable value of £700,000, was unfair.

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Councils Face ‘Months of Chaos’ Following Co-op Banking Crisis

Dozens of councils that banked with the Co-op are facing months of upheaval and additional costs while they re-tender their banking contracts.

The Co-op announced last year that it would stop providing banking services to its local authority clients to focus its attention on individual and small- to medium-sized business customers.

In total, the Co-op had 35% of the market share of local authority transactional banking contracts.

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Government Launches Business Rates Review

Councils are being invited to provide feedback on the responsiveness and effectiveness of the Government’s new business rates system.

Announced at last year’s Autumn Statement, the discussion paper on the administration of the business rate system calls on local authorities and companies to consider how the structure in England is administered by the Valuation Office Agency and town halls.

Views are being sought on how the business rates system can also be improved over the long term, with the Government looking to use the review to ultimately strengthen the system’s responsiveness to changes in property values, simplicity and transparency.

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Benn: Labour Will Devolve Power to Councils

Labour will devolve power over infrastructure and skills to councils if they are elected next year, shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said yesterday.

Mr Benn gave the message while visiting a number of initiatives backed by Stevenage BC yesterday.

He said: ‘Government can play its part centrally, for example, through action on business rates.

‘We will take action to cut and then freeze rates for a range of businesses but it’s also about what we can do locally.

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Labour to Pledge Funding Boost for English Cities

Labour is to promise English cities more powers over transport, housing and employment to help close the "productivity gap" with London.

If elected, the party will commit to handing £20bn to councils to spend on skills, back-to-work schemes and infrastructure, leader Ed Miliband is expected to say in a speech on Tuesday.

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Schools Need Kitchen Improvements for Free Meals

More than 2,700 schools in England will need to improve kitchens to provide free meals for infant school children, according to new figures.

Freedom of Information figures obtained by the BBC found this to be about one in three schools assessed so far.

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Poorest Homes Face £120 Council Tax Rise as Safety Net Goes

More than 670,000 of the poorest households in England will face an increase in council tax from tomorrow as the Government withdraws a benefits safety net. Using Freedom of Information requests, a joint investigation by the Guardian and campaign group False Economy, found 83 councils are reducing protection for vulnerable residents. Cllr Sharon Taylor, Chair of the LGA’s Finance Panel, said: “When government handed the responsibility for administering council tax support to local authorities, it cut hundreds of millions in funding for it. The shortfall between the money councils receive to fund council tax support and the money we would need to protect those on low incomes is getting bigger and is likely to reach £1 billion by 2016. At the same time, councils are tackling the biggest cuts in living memory and cannot afford to make up the difference."

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Local Audit Fees Cut Following New Contract Awards

New outsourced audit contracts could save local authorities as much as £80m by the end of the decade as a result of lower fees, the Audit Commission announced today.

The commission has completed the retendering of contracts for around one-third of local audits, which was first announced last year. The deals were retendered to find further savings on top of those achieved in 2012 when the commission outsourced its audit practice. The contracts are for two years and can be extended for a further three years.

In the deals announced today, Ernst & Young and KPMG both won contracts worth £9.6m a year to audit in the north and the south of England. BDO has also won a contract, worth £4.6m a year, to undertake audits in the south.

Based on these figures, a total of £30m will be saved through lower costs over the period to 2017, controller of audit Marcine Waterman said. This could rise to £80m if an option to extend the agreements to 2020 is picked up.

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Leaders Dispute that Councils are Plundering Public Health Budgets

Council chiefs have hit back at claims public health funds are being ‘raided’ to fill holes in town hall budgets.

England’s local authorities were this morning accused of ‘playing fast and loose’ with ring-fenced funds after research suggested town halls were holding back investment from numerous public health services to support wider councils services.

Freedom of Information requests from the British Medical Journal found almost a third of responding local authorities had stopped at least one public health service since responsibilities were transferred from the NHS last April.

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Cuts have left 250,000 Older People without State Care, Report Says

A quarter of a million older people have lost their state-funded help with carrying out everyday activities such as bathing, dressing and eating in the past four years as council budgets have been slashed and services rationed, according to a report released on Wednesday.

The NHS and government are now "flying blind" in planning services for vulnerable older people because there is no way of assessing the true impact that social care cuts are having on their lives, the report's authors warn.

The report by the Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation thinktanks says that four years of cuts to local authority funding have already forced councils to ration social care services tightly.

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Audit Commission to Return £8m to Local Authorities

The Audit Commission has announced that it will provide a rebate totalling £8m to local authorities as part of preparations for its closure next March.

The commission said the money would be immediately distributed across 687 local bodies it audits, including councils and NHS trusts, following a decision by the watchdog’s board to distribute retained funds ahead of its closure. The commission will be abolished on March 31 2015 under the coalition government’s reforms to local audit.

Announcing the rebate for principal audited bodies, which amounts to  13.7% of their 2012/13 annual audit fee, commission chair Jeremy Newman said: ‘As decisions have been made along the route to our closure in 2015, it has been possible to project our outgoings and where we have identified a surplus in our retained earnings, we are seeking to return them.'

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Pickles: Two-Thirds of Town Halls to Freeze Council Tax

Two-third of councils have agreed to accept the government’s grant to freeze council tax from next month, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today.

Figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government have revealed that 235 of 353 councils in England will receive the freeze funding for 2014/15, based on holding down or cutting bills. Authorities have been offered the equivalent of a 1% increase on a Band D property in government grant if they freeze rates in both of the next two financial years, amounting to £550m.

According to the department, five police authorities and 11 fire authorities have also accepted the grant.

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Councils Prioritising Shared Services to Cut Costs, Survey Finds

The shift towards shared services is the most popular strategy for saving money, according to a survey of local government managers.

New Ways of ICT Working, conducted by UNIT4 Business Software, reveals that 63% of managers said shared services was a priority for reducing costs, with 83% also saying they were important or very important for improving services.

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Low Carbon Heating Support Won by 24 Councils

Some 24 councils have been awarded over £2.1m to support development of low carbon heating projects.

Staffordshire County Council, Manchester City Council and the London Borough of Camden were among winners in the second round of funding from the Heat Networks Delivery Unit.

As part of the funding, successful applicants will receive commercial and technical support and guidance to help attract commercial investment in the supply of efficient and cost-effective heat to homes and businesses.

Remaining support from the £7m pot will be allocated through further funding rounds, which are set to run until March 2015.

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David Cameron: Cash in your Pension Pot, and you May be Liable for Care

People who cash in their pensions under the government reforms may end up paying more for their care, David Cameron has admitted.

From 2016, people with assets of more than £118,000, including their own homes, will have to pay for their social care in old age.

The Prime Minister said that those who choose to take large sums from their pension pots under the Government’s reforms could be pushed over the limit.

However, he said that people “have a choice” about whether they take out an annuity or decide to withdraw their money and invest it elsewhere.

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Local Government Finance Reform ‘Unavoidable’, Whiteman Tells MPs

The funding system for local government could cease to work effectively within a decade due to constraints placed on councils, the chief executive of CIPFA has told MPs.

Giving evidence to the communities and local government select committee inquiry into fiscal devolution to cities and city regions yesterday, Rob Whiteman said the current local government finance system would need to be reformed.

‘My own view is that sooner or later this issue will have to be addressed.'

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Government Reveals Delivering Differently Fund Winners

Devon County Council, NE Lincolnshire and Portsmouth City are among 10 councils chosen to receive up to £100,000 from the Delivering Differently fund.

Selected from more than 150 applicants across England, the winning local authorities will be given help to implement new models for delivering a specific service.

Providing the fund, the Delivering Differently Challenge is a joint programme between the Cabinet Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Local Government Association and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.

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Councils Urged to ‘Scale Back’ Zero-Hours Contracts by Think Tank

Local authorities have been urged to scale back the use of zero-hours contracts and consider staffing conditions when awarding care contracts, in a new report.

Zeroing In, published by think tank the Resolution Foundation, rejects banning zero-hours contracts outright but argues there are ‘clear signs’ of abuse and poor practice.

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Experts Warn of Hidden Downsides to George Osborne's Pension Reforms

Councils could face huge extra bills to pay for social care if George Osborne’s sweeping pension reforms encourage newly retired people to spend most of the money they have set aside for old age, the Government was warned last night.

It follows claims that pensioners could rush to invest in buy-to-let properties, further stoking up house prices, when they gain the right to cash in their pension pots as a lump sum.

Town halls said they were examining the Budget’s fine print to ensure already stretched budgets did not come under strain as a byproduct of the liberalisation of pensions.

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Stark Warning over Local Authority Pensions

The chairman of the London Pensions Fund Authority (LPFA) has issued a stark warning about the crisis facing local government pensions.

Speaking at a Greater London Authority oversight committee meeting, Edmund Truell said his organisation needed to take investment risk to raise the money to pay everyone’s pension.

Mr Truell said London taxpayers would eventually have to pick up any shortfall and suggested the ‘best chance’ of paying everyone’s pension would be to run a ‘single, unified portfolio’.

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Sandwell Council Staff Offered Perks in Exchange for Salary Sacrifice

Council staff in Sandwell have been offered a range of perks such as childcare vouchers or car lease schemes in exchange for giving up part of their salary.

The salary sacrifice scheme, to be offered to all council-based employees from April, would allow staff to ‘swap’ a part of their salary for a non-cash alternative. Deputy leader, Cllr Mahboob Hussain, said: ‘Council employees spend their working lives helping the local community. In these times of austerity it's great we've been able to find a way to give something back to the workforce.'

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Council Employees Offered 1% Pay Rise

Council employees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who earn more than £14,880 are being offered a 1% pay rise this year.

Those on lower salaries will be offered a "slightly higher increase", the Local Government Association said.

The offer could affect more than one million staff and follows a 1% rise last year, after a three-year wage freeze.

Unison, which represents 600,000 workers, said it was "outraged".

It said council employees had already endured a "devastating three-year pay freeze and then a miserly 1% increase last year, representing a fall in pay in real terms back to the level of the 1990s".

The pay offer does not affect teachers, firefighters, chief executives or senior officers. They are covered by separate pay arrangements.

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Local Government Bonds Agency ‘Could Save £1.5bn’

Plans to create a municipal bond agency could save councils nearly £1.5bn in lower borrowing costs, according to the latest analysis by the Local Government Association.

The LGA’s executive have endorsed plans to establish the agency – first confirmed last November – after a revised business case for the plan set out savings across the sector of between £1.2bn and £1.45bn over 30 years.

Local authorities currently borrow from the Public Works Loan Board at 0.8 percentage points above the level charged on government gilts.

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Council Unions Consider Industrial Action over ‘Insulting’ 1% Pay Offer

Trade unions are to consult council staff on industrial action after the Local Government Association offered most employees a below-inflation 1% pay increase from next month.

The LGA, which had delayed its pay offer until the new minimum wage rates were confirmed, said those in the bottom six pay scales would receive higher increases, with the lowest paid receiving an increase of 4.66%. However, the majority of employees would only qualify for the 1% increase, below the current 1.9% consumer prices index inflation measure.

The offer made to local government unions Unison, the GMB and Unite followed a broad consensus among councils that there should be a pay offer to staff this year, the chair of the employers’ side of the National Joint Council Sian Timoney said.

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Audit Commission’s Counter-Fraud Work to Transfer to CIPFA

CIPFA is to take over the Audit Commission’s counter-fraud work when the watchdog is wound up next year and establish a national centre of excellence in counter-fraud, it has been announced today.

Further details were set out today on where the commission’s functions will transfer. CIPFA has been asked by ministers to take over counter-fraud areas including the publication of the annual Protecting the public purse report.

The new centre will work with partners from across the public sector to become a global authority on counter-fraud for public services. This will also include publication of a counter-fraud manual, accredited training and the sharing of good practice when the centre opens in June 2014.

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George Osborne and Mark Carney Issue Pre-Budget Economy Alerts

The chancellor and the governor of the Bank of England have issued separate warnings on the eve of the budget that difficult decisions lie ahead if Britain is to secure its objective of a resilient economy.

In a budget expected to be replete with pre-election messages tested by the Conservative election strategist Lynton Crosby, George Osborne will claim he is presenting a budget for economic security.

The chancellor is expected to point out that he is still only halfway through the economic retrenchment programme started in 2010 – and, in an eye-catching distraction, will announce plans to replace the existing round gold £1 coin with a 12-sided bi-metallic design.

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Councils Get £200m Road Repair Boost after Winter Storms

Councils will be able to bid for a share of a £200m fund to pay for road repairs, Chancellor George Osborne said in his Budget.

Acknowledging that roads had ‘taken a battering’ following the exceptionally poor weather this winter, Osborne also announced an additional £140m for immediate repairs and maintenance to damaged flood defences across Britain.

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Residents Allowed to Donate Council Tax Savings for Second Year

Residents in Windsor and Maidenhead are being allowed to donate back their ‘council tax savings’ for the second consecutive year.

Following announcements that Windsor and Maidenhead RBC would cut its council tax bill by 2% for 2014/15, local people are being allowed to give the money they are saving to support a community service.

Despite only one resident choosing to make a donation last year, the town hall is once again allowing local people to provide cash for services including pothole repairs, facilities for young people and improved town centre parking.

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Revealed: the 'Conveyor Belt Care' of Those with Dementia

Thousands of people with dementia are being subjected to “conveyor belt care” with some seeing more than 40 different care workers in six months, charities have warned.

Experts said vulnerable and confused pensioners were being left in fear by councils and agencies who sent a succession of strangers into their homes.

Charities said the constant stream of changing faces comes as care visits - to wash, feed and provide mediction - get ever shorter, with many checks on the elderly lasting just a few minutes - even though for some it was the only human contact they had.

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We Need a New Law on Weekly Bin Collections to Force Councils to Bring Them Back, Admits Pickles

Eric Pickles has been forced to threaten to introduce new laws to force more councils to bring back weekly bin collections after admitting the Government’s previous efforts have done no more than slow their decline.

The Communities Secretary said it had taken Labour ten years to ‘destroy’ the traditional weekly service and suggested it would take as long to restore it.

He revealed that the Tories are now looking at how to legislation to set down new ‘minimum standards’ making it more difficult for local authorities to offer fortnightly collections.

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Council Tax Single Person Discount ‘Should be Reviewed’

Wealthy people living alone in large homes should lose their council tax discount to fund more help for poorer families, local authorities say. Households with just one adult get a 25 per cent discount on council tax at present. But the Local Government Association proposes that it claws back the £200m it currently loses from properties in England rated band E or above where only one person pays council tax. Cllr Peter Fleming, Chairman of the Local Government Association Improvement Board, said: “It is difficult to justify why discounts for wealthy professionals living in large homes are protected while nearby there are low-income families struggling to make ends meet who are having their discounts cut. This ‘wealthy bachelor’ discount currently costs councils £200m per year in lost council tax revenue and is subsidising individuals occupying large homes at a time when there is a dire shortage of housing.”

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‘Mobility’ the Key to Unlocking Millions in Council Savings, Says Consultancy

Local authorities could save around £10m a year by embracing mobile technology and transforming the way staff work, according to new research.

Consultancy Bluefin Solutions said the move would also improve customer service and boost the morale among council employees.

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Councils Taking Drastic Steps in Face of Surge in Pupil Numbers

Councils are borrowing millions of pounds and shoehorning classes into disused police stations in an effort to cope with the surge in pupil numbers they face over the next five years, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

Local authorities in England are having to take unusual steps to meet the shortfall in school places – as the baby boom demographic begins to move from primary to secondary schooling – despite the Department for Education pledging £2.35bn for expansion and new school construction.

Analysis of Department for Education DfE data by the LGA suggests that one in three local authority areas will need to provide nearly 81,000 new places by 2019, as the baby boom demographic of recent years begins to move from primary to secondary schooling.

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Government Under Fire for Outsourcing Scandals

The Government’s ability to negotiate and manage contracts with outsourcing providers has been criticised in damning report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of PAC, has warned the Government must urgently ‘get its house in order’ and ensure outsourcing contracts are transparent and open to public scrutiny.

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Extra £350m for Schools as DfE Prepares Funding Shift

The schools budget is to increase by £350m from April 2015 under reforms that will introduce a new minimum funding level per pupil across England.

Schools minister David Laws announced today that ministers would take the first step towards introducing a single national funding formula for schools by introducing a new funding floor. This would make the system fairer, simpler and more transparent, he said.

Under the plans, which were published for consultation today, primary schools will receive a minimum of £2,845 per pupil, while in secondary school it will be set at two levels – £3,951 for Key Stage 3 pupils and £4,529 for Key Stage 4.

As many as 60 council areas that have suffered from lower allocations based on historical pupil data will benefit from the extra cash, Laws said.

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Budget ‘Should Scrap Council Tax Referendum Cap’

The government has been urged to use next week’s Budget to scrap the cap on council tax increases that can be made without holding a local referendum.

In its Budget submission, CentreForum, the liberal think-tank, said requirements for councils to hold local referendums if they propose an increase above 2% weakened the link between local finance and local democracy.

Its proposals also called for the introduction of a ‘clear delineation’ between national and local responsibilities, as well as an end to the government’s council tax freeze grant. This had simply transferred the cost of providing local services from council tax to national taxes, the think-tank said.

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Council Directors Call for Financial Freedoms in Budget

Council directors have urged chancellor George Osborne to devolve greater fiscal powers and freedoms to local authorities in next week's Budget.

In its submission to the Treasury, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) called on Osborne to provide longer term funding certainty for councils in his speech next Wednesday.

The submission said town halls should be offered 'more flexible ways to borrow money' and called for establishment of a Municipal Bonds Agency for councils to fund major infrastructure projects.

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Adult Social Care 'Under Pressure', Report Says

Adult social care in England is under increasing pressure and the government has "no idea" how long the system can cope, according to an official inquiry.

The National Audit Office also raised doubts over whether an overhaul of care services, which begins in 2015, will be as successful as ministers hope.

A lack of time and information could leave councils struggling to improve services, the report added.

Ministers say they are giving councils £1.1 billion to protect such services.

The NAO found that while demand for adult social care was increasing, spending by local authorities fell by 8% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2012-13.

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Vulnerable People 'Being Kept Prisoner in Care Homes'

Tens of thousands of the most vulnerable patients are effectively being kept prisoner in care homes and hospitals through misuse of mental health laws, a damning House of Lords investigation has found.

In the worst cases, safeguards aimed at protecting patients with a range of conditions are being used to oppress people and force decisions on them, peers said.

They found measures supposed to be used to look after at-risk patients – such as those with dementia who might get lost if they left their care home – were being used on a significant scale to deprive them wrongly of their liberty.

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Councils Urged to Increase Local Care Places

Councils need to ensure they have enough residential care places available to place children in their own areas, MPs said today.

The Commons education committee said it was of ‘great concern’ that children were being placed in homes in unsuitable and dangerous areas.

Committee chair Graham Stuart said: ‘Measures to improve children’s homes should start with the development of a wider programme to improve stability around placements and a national strategy for care provision, based on better assessments of need where residential homes are seen as a positive choice, rather than a last resort.

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MPs to Fill Audit Commission Scrutiny Gap, Says Hodge

The chair of the Public Accounts Committee has pledged that MPs will ‘have a real go’ at maintaining scrutiny of council services following the abolition of the Audit Commission.

Margaret Hodge said the legislation that will close the commission next March would constrain the work of the PAC in examining the effectiveness and efficiency local services, as MPs would be unable to call councils before them. 

However, she said that working with the National Audit Office – which will conduct some value-for-money examinations of local government – the committee would attempt to maintain oversight.

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Public Sector Pay Rise for All but Top Managers

Following reports from the independent pay review bodies in which they were asked to consider how a 1% rise might best be applied, ministers have agreed to sanction the rise for all but the most senior staff.

‘We need to continue with public sector pay restraint in order to put the nation’s finances back on a sustainable footing,’ said Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

‘We are delivering on our commitment to a one per cent pay rise for all except the most senior public sector workers.’

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Stop Bulk-Buying Public Services and Meet User Need, Report Says

Around £16bn could be saved if health and social care services were designed to more effectively meet people’s needs, a report claims.

Standardisation of services and the belief in ‘economies of scale’ are causing costly administrative burdens for the public sector, while failing to provide vulnerable people with the support they require - according to Locality.

Produced in partnership with professor John Seddon of Vanguard Consulting, ‘Saving money by doing the right thing’ suggests public services should be ‘local by default’, designed to meet the specific needs of the public and give focus to underlying purpose instead of outcome.

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Minimum Wage to Rise by 3% to £6.50 an Hour

The National Minimum Wage is to rise to £6.50 per hour following the government’s acceptance of the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations for 2014.

The rise will take effect from October 2014 and will see pay rises of up to £355 a year for more than one million people. Research from Unison last year suggests 28,000 local government workers earn £6.30 per hour.

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Our Absurd Council Tax Policy, by Lib Dem Minister

The Liberal Democrat’s local government minister has described his own department’s flagship policy on council tax as ‘absurd’.

Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams attacked the rule - handed down by his own Department for Communities and Local Government - that councils had to hold a referendum if they wanted to raise council tax by more than two per cent.

He also suggested that town halls should be able to impose a new ‘bedroom tax’ on hotels in tourist areas.

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Public Sector Workers Still Better Paid Despite the Cuts

Public sector workers still earn significantly more than those in private firms despite a freeze in wages and Government spending cuts, official figures show.

Staff such as civil servants or council or NHS workers, earn an average of £2.12 an hour more than their counterparts in businesses, a difference of 14.5 per cent.

Even when the figures are adjusted to take account of the make-up of the workforce, those employed by the taxpayer still earn around 2.7 per cent more per hour than those in businesses, a study by the Office for National Statistics shows.

But the gap is narrowing as a result of successive years of “pay restraint” in the public sector amid sweeping spending cuts.

And if the figures are further adjusted to account for the size of different organisations – as the public sector is dominated by big employers such as the NHS and councils – it suggests that public sector workers earn almost two per cent less per hour.

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Councils Warn on Costs of Social Care Changes

Adult social care reforms could be jeopardised by a lack of funding to implement the changes, local authorities have warned.

The Local Government Association said successful introduction of the planned Care Bill changes, which include a cap on an individual’s lifetime care costs and better integration with the NHS, was at risk without money being provided to meet extra costs. 

Possible new costs for councils include the introduction of a national threshold for care based on ‘substantial’ need, above the ‘critical’ level used by some. There is also a requirement to assess around 450,000 people currently paying for their social care so they can be included in council-run payment systems to meter contributions to the cap.

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Local Audit Reforms ‘On Course to Save £1.2bn’

Plans to abolish the Audit Commission remain on track to save £1.2bn over ten years, the Department for Communities and Local Government has stated today.

Following a consultation on the secondary legislation being introduced as part of the Local Audit and Accountability Act, which will shut the commission by the end of March 2015, local government minister Brandon Lewis insisted the savings target would be met.

There was broad support for the introduction of the new audit regime, and moves to close the commission has already saved £400m, he said.

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Raynsford: Council Tax Reform Relies on ‘Large Majority’

Significant reform of the council tax will require a government with a substantial majority and possibly a two-term timeframe, according to a former Labour local government minister.

Nick Raynsford, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, said that political consensus would be the ideal but that was unlikely. Instead, a strong government would be necessary to push change through.

‘The chance for reform relies on a government with a very large majority,’ he said. ‘The only way that the poll tax could have been brought in was with a government with a 100+ majority.’

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Union Urges Pressure over Local Government Pay

Unison has urged its members to ‘ratchet up the political pressure’ on the Local Government Association after union pay claim talks were brought forward.

The trade union has emailed MPs and councillors asking them to raise the issue of pay in advance of talks on March 20.

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Councillors to Lose Taxpayer-Funded Final Salary Pensions

Councillors will no longer be entitled to taxpayer–funded pensions under a legal change to be announced today.

Under a rule introduced by Labour in 2003, councillors are allowed to join the local government pension scheme.

More than 4,000 councillors are thought to have joined the programme, which offers a final salary pension.

The changes will mean that from April, no more councillors will be able to join the scheme. Those who have already joined will cease to receive contributions from the next time they face re–election.

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Councils Paying out Less for Pothole Damage, Research Shows

Around 40,000 motorists tried to claim compensation from councils last year over damage caused by potholes, new research shows.

The research, conducted by The Telegraph, found that while severe weather had increased the number of claims in 2012, councils had managed to reduce the amount they actually paid out. The figures show that the average driver was only awarded a sixth of the amount when compared to payouts in 2012.

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Million Set Aside for Elderly and Disabled May be Lost to Red Tape

Care for elderly and disabled people could be “jeopardised” by a £135 million gap in funding for a long-awaited overhaul of the system, an alliance of council leaders, care chiefs and charities warn today. Cllr Katie Hall, Chair of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, said: “It would be a tragedy if insufficient funding created a barrier for local authorities to carry out changes the Care Bill is designed to bring and we are in real danger of the good intentions of the Bill being jeopardised if the Government does not properly fund the reforms.”

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Extra £140m to Repair Damaged Roads

An additional £140 million is to be made available to councils to repair roads damaged by the bad weather, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said. The Government is to provide an extra £36.5m to areas with the most severely damaged roads, while a further £103.5m will go to all councils in England. Cllr Mike Jones, Chair of the LGA’s Environment and Housing Board, said councils had already expressed “serious concerns” about the impact the extreme weather had had and said the investment was “good news for residents”. He added: “We do not yet know what the full bill for the cost of this winter's devastating floods will be, but we expect it to be more than £140m.”

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Radical Care Shift ‘Needed to Meet Ageing Population Challenge’

Health and social care services have failed to keep pace with dramatic demographic changes and need to be radically remodelled, the King’s Fund has said.

In Making our health and care systems fit for an ageing population, the health think-tank suggested that services needed to be co-ordinated around individual needs rather than single diseases. They should also prioritise prevention and support for independent living.

David Oliver, visiting fellow at the King’s Fund, said: ‘The health and care systems have a long way to go to adapt to the twin challenges of an ageing population and tighter funding. Many local service leaders are transforming services for older people, but we urgently need to see their experiences spread more widely.

‘But marginal change will not be enough; transformation is needed at scale and at pace.’

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Pickles Announces Coastal Regeneration Funding

Ministers have named over 50 Coastal Communities Fund winners, while revealing the £64m pot of funding for the scheme’s next round.

Locations including Southend in Essex, Colwyn Bay in Wales and Port of Ellen on Islay in Scotland have been awarded a share of £27.7m to support regeneration and investment.

This latest round of funding is expected to support over 4,000 jobs and create around 1,000 new apprenticeships and training places in seaside sites.

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Councils Urge Government to Freeze Landfill Tax

Council leaders are calling on Government to freeze the landfill tax and redistribute the revenue to local taxpayers.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is urging the chancellor, George Osborne, to cap the tax at £72 in this month’s budget rather than proceed with the planned increase to £80 per tonne from April. It said the money raised from this tax should not be kept by the Treasury but instead be invested in local recycling facilities.

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North East ‘Super Council’ Secures Government Backing

The Cabinet Office has begun the legal process to set up a new combined authority in the North East.

The new ‘super council’ will see seven local authorities across the region merge some functions to help maximise the opportunities for economic growth across the region.

The new authority will not replace the existing local councils, but will have devolved powers to deliver new jobs, transport and skills.

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Brighton and Hove Cllrs ‘Keep Pickles Out’ with Agreed Budget

Brighton and Hove councillors have settled on a budget for the year ahead, defeating the ruling Green Party’s planned 4.75% council tax rise.

Council leader Jason Kitcat blasted the ‘short-termist politicking’ of Labour and Conservative councillors, after members agreed on a 1.99% rise in local levies last night.

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Osborne Faces £20bn Black Hole in UK Public Finances, Says Report

George Osborne is facing a £20bn black hole in the public finances, which means that austerity may have to continue until 2020, according to research by the Financial Times.

In a blow to the chancellor, who hopes to run a budget surplus in the next parliament, the research suggests that austerity may have to last a year longer than expected because the government will not be able to rely on economic recovery to eliminate part of the deficit.

Osborne is already committed to imposing £25bn in spending reductions between 2016-17 and 2017-18, which would have to include £12bn in welfare cuts.

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Britain Accused of Breaching European Treaty With Austerity Cuts to Councils

Deep austerity cuts are crippling local councils and have put Britain in breach of its international obligations, the Council of Europe has said.

Official rapporteurs found local authorities do "not have adequate financial resources" and this is likely to "get worse in years to come", meaning the UK is not compliant with the European charter of local self-government.

In its first report on UK local government for 15 years, the Council of Europe said councils are severely restricted in their ability to provide "essential public services", including health, social and elderly care, especially to the "growing number of older people".

It blamed "austerity measures placed on local government", after its examiners visited London, Leeds, Edinburgh, and Cardiff. The delegation found local government is "faring worse" than national governments and other parts of the public sector.

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Councils to Support Care Leavers into Adulthood

More than 120 of England's local authorities have committed to provide support and advice to care leavers until their 25th birthday.

The councils have signed up to the Care Leavers' Charter, which sets out the challenges facing people leaving care.

Around 10,000 young people aged between 16 and 18 leave care each year.

The government says they should expect the same level of care and support that their friends and classmates get from their parents.

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Age UK Sounds Alarm over Cuts to Care for Older People

About 168,000 older people have stopped receiving help with essential tasks such as eating, washing and getting dressed as a result of deep and continuing cuts to social care under the coalition government, a report from Age UK says.

More and more vulnerable pensioners are being denied support to help them continue living at home, which also include meals-on-wheels and visits to daycare centres, the charity says.

It laments the "distressing human cost" involved, including loneliness, isolation and upset for those affected and a greater caring burden for their families.

The dwindling availability of social care has been going on since 2005-06, when Labour was in power, but has increased with deep coalition cuts to the budgets of England's 152 local councils, Age UK found in its Care in Crisis 2014 report, which is based on official figures.

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Independent Living Fund to Close From June 2015

The Independent Living Fund (ILF) is to close from 30 June 2015, with local authorities taking responsibility for delivering support through the mainstream adult social care system.

Minister for disabled people, Mike Penning, confirmed the new arrangements for the fund, which helps disabled people to live independent lives. The 18,000 current users of the fund in England will now transfer from ILF to the social care system.

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Costs of Town Hall Pensions ‘Can be Cut by Half’

The cost of local government pension administration could be cut in half through greater use of shared services and fund mergers, a government-backed pension firm has said.

Virginia Burke, business development director at MyCSP, which took over the administration of civil service pensions in May 2012, told Public Finance the firm was keen to expand into administration of council funds.

MyCSP administers pensions for civil servants across 205 Whitehall employers after the ‘spin out’ of the partly staff-owned firm. It took these over from individual employers and has demonstrated the possibility to make savings, Burke said, with plans on track to cut administration costs by half over its 10-year contract.

The current system in the Local Government Pension Scheme, where most funds undertake their own administration, ‘doesn’t really add up’, she said. There are 81 administrating authorities for the 89 funds in England and Wales at a cost of £119m.

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Replace Council Tax with Property and Income Hybrid, Urges Charity

Bills could fall by more than 10% if council tax was replaced by a progressive property value levy, a charity has said.

Warning the council tax system in England is ‘decaying and lacks credibility’, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has called for further investigation into the potential for a hybrid property and income tax.

Under this hybrid, almost two thirds of households could see bills fall by a tenth on current council levies.

A progressive property tax would also reduce gross median bills for the poorest 10% of households by £202, while increasing them for the top tenth by £184 – according to the After the Council Tax report.

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Adult Social Services Jobs Drop by 7%

The number of adult social services jobs has fallen by 7% over the last year in England’s councils, a survey suggests.

Around two thirds of local authorities saw the number of adult social service jobs reduce in the twelve months to September 2013, with a total of 10,000 fewer roles being held in England.

While the reasons for these reductions are unclear for the majority of town halls, nine cited outsourcing as the reason for the fall, while 14 reduced due to restructures and redundancies.

However, the report from Skills for Care in partnership with the Health and Social Care Information Centre also reveals the number of whole time equivalent social worker jobs increase by 2% to 14,800 last year.

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Councils ‘Struggling’ to Keep Up with Rise in Mobile Access

Local government websites are ‘struggling’ to adapt to the rapid growth in the use of mobile phones to access services, according to a new survey.

Socitm’s Better Connected survey found that only 31% of council sites achieved the Better connected standard for mobile access, even though a third of visits come from mobile devices.

The assessment also found that tasks tested on mobiles were only half as good as those tested on desktop devices. Socitm said this suggests councils are finding it difficult to match the quality of experience on the desktop with that on mobile devices.

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Councils in England 'Plan Slight Rise' in Council Tax

Councils in England are planning an average council tax increase this year of 0.6%, according to a survey.

That will take the average bill for a band D property to £1,464 in 2014/15 - a rise of £8.47.

The annual survey was carried out by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the government had "worked with councils to freeze council tax", and had cut it in real terms.

The biggest increase will occur in the South East outside London, where average council tax is set to go up by 0.8%, or £11.35.

In London, the average bill will fall by £5.39.

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Britain's Super Rich Must Pay More Council Tax, Says Boris Johnson

The super rich living in Britain including wealthy foreigners like Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich must pay more council tax, Boris Johnson has said.

The imbalance between business rates levied on firms and what better-off residents were paying in council tax had become 'absolutely crazy' and had to be resolved, the mayor of London said.

Speaking to MPs on the Communities and Local Government Committee, Mr Johnson said: 'If you compare what a Russian oligarch is paying on his stuccoed schloss in Kensington in annual council tax compared to what such a gentleman might be asked to pay in Paris or New York or anywhere else, it is quite stunning the difference."

 

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Business Rates not Fit for Purpose, MPs Say

Business rates are not fit for purpose and need a complete overhaul, MPs say in a report.

Joining a chorus of critics, they call for the Government review into the future of business rates to be extended to consider whether retail taxes should be based on sales rather than the rateable value of a property.

The MPs want the review, set up by Chancellor George Osborne, to look at the merits of giving retail its own business taxation system.

In their report, the Business, Innovation and Skills committee calls for an interim 2pc cap on increases in business rates until the Government delivers fundamental reform. They also want the six-month rates amnesty for businesses occupying empty properties to be more generous than the 50pc relief announced to encourage newcomers to depressed high streets.

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Cameron: Public Spending Savings Could Fund Lower Taxes

David Cameron has suggested that further public spending savings could be used to fund tax cuts.

"Every efficiency" found could help to provide a "bit of extra cash" for households, he said in a speech.

He also argued that spending cuts were part of an attempt to change the UK's "values" by making the country less reliant on debt.

But Labour said the PM had overseen tax cuts for the wealthiest while "everyone else is worse off".

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Delay BT Broadband Cash Bid, MPs Urge

BT should be given no more taxpayers' money to roll out rural broadband until it clarifies how it is spending the £1.2bn already paid to it, the Commons Public Accounts Committee has said.

Government audits of how much the telecoms firm charged councils for project management have revealed possible savings of up to 35%.

BT has so far won all the UK's rural broadband contracts.

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Boom in Free Bus Passes... But No Buses: Pensioner Perk so Popular Councils Forced to Axe Services to Pay for It

Surging demand for free bus travel is forcing councils to axe routes and services, it emerged yesterday.

Local authorities say cuts in Government support for free bus passes for the elderly and disabled has left them struggling to fund the scheme.

‘Unless the Government commits to fully funding concessionary fares, elderly and disabled people will be left stranded with a free bus pass in one hand but no local buses to travel on in the other,’ warned Peter Box of the Local Government Association.

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Councils Cut Free School Buses in Blow to Parents' Freedom of Choice

Councils across England and Wales are cutting back on free school buses in a blow to the freedom of parents to choose the right school for their child, irrespective of where they live.

Before Monday's national offer day, when about 530,000 English 11-year-olds will discover which state secondary school they have been allocated for September, it is feared that council cuts finalised in recent weeks will undermine ministers' claims to be empowering parental choice. Only pupils who attend the school closest to them will be offered free transport under new policies being adopted – the minimum under the law.

Currently many councils provide free travel for children to attend either the nearest school or schools more than two miles away in the case of children under eight years old, and three miles for children aged eight to 16.

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Local Councils Breaking Childcare Laws as Working Parents Forced to Rely on Charity of Friends and Family

Millions of children across Britain are being denied local childcare by councils, with working parents forced to rely on the charity of friends and family, according to a report to be released on Tuesday.

More than half of local authorities in England and Wales are breaking the law by not meeting their legal obligations to ensure sufficient childcare for working parents, according to the report by the Family and Childcare Trust.

The Childcare Act 2006, which came into force in 2008, places a legal responsibility on all local authorities in England and Wales to provide sufficient childcare for working parents and those in training or education to return to work.

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Councils Spending £3m on Food Poverty and Food Banks

Almost £3m of public money is being used to help tackle food poverty, BBC Panorama has discovered.

A third of all councils in England and Wales said they had subsidised food banks.

The government said local authorities were now responsible, and better placed, for providing emergency help.

The Bishop of Manchester said the government needed to be "explicit whether food banks are to be part of the system".

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Councils Could Host Motor Sports on Public Roads

Local authorities could be given the power to hold motor sports events on public roads, under new proposals announced by the Government.

Under the proposal, councils would be allowed to close roads and suspend speed limits to host events that would benefit the local economy.

Evidence suggests there is demand to hold up to 20 on-road motor sports events in Britain each year, generating up to £40m of income for local communities.

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Brighton and Hove Council Fails to Set Budget

Brighton and Hove councillors failed to agree on the council’s budget last night, over proposals to hold a referendum on increasing council tax.

The Green Party had proposed raising council tax by 4.75% saying it would fund social care services. However, Labour and Conservative councillors had voted against the rise saying the Green’s budget was a ‘political’ one.

The council must agree a budget by 11 March or risk government intervention.

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Audit Commission Highlights Hike in Council Management Costs

Management costs in local authorities, including some finance functions, have increased by 10% in the last decade, with poor monitoring now hindering attempts to cut spending, the Audit Commission has said.

The watchdog examined the cost of central management functions, such as finance, human resources, information technology and property and called for greater scrutiny following the rise in spending.

Total spending on management support services in councils grew by 23% in real terms between 2003/04 and 2007/08. From 2009/10 to 2011/12, spending was cut by 11%, according to available figures, but spending in real terms was still £577m higher in March 2012 than in 2003/04.


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Launch of £20m Social Investment Fund

A £20m fund to make loans and equity investments for charities and social enterprises has been launched by Social and Sustainable Capital.

The Community Investment Fund will provide up to £1m to social enterprises that improve the lives of local people, create new jobs and develop the local economy. The fund will report on both the financial and social performance of its investments, to show investors it is possible to make a positive social impact alongside a financial return.

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Extra £250m Announced for Superfast Broadband

Superfast broadband projects will receive additional funding from a £250m pot, culture secretary Maria Miller has revealed.

Hard to reach areas are expected to benefit most from the extra government cash to boost broadband rollout, which will support business start ups and job creation in the UK's rural areas.

Some £1.2bn has already been invested by central and local government in the supply of superfast broadband. Work aims to ensure 95% of UK homes and businesses have success to high speed internet by 2017.

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Local Authorities Urged to Promote NHS Health Checks

Local authorities should encourage people to attend NHS Health Checks and support them with any lifestyle changes needed, according to a new NICE briefing.

The briefing aims to support local authorities - who now have responsibility for commissioning NHS Health Checks - in getting their local community assessed for health risks. It also sets out steps to help tackle long-term health conditions in their populations and reduce health inequalities.

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Down and Out in Austerity Britain: Number of Rough Sleepers Soars by 37 Percent

Rough sleeping has soared since the Coalition came into power as cuts to local housing and homeless services take effect, Government figures show.

An estimated 2,414 people were sleeping rough in England on any one night in 2013, an increase of 37 per cent on 2010. Local authority budgets have been squeezed under the Coalition, making shelters and schemes aimed at preventing homelessness increasingly vulnerable.

In 2009 the Labour Government removed the ring fence from housing support services to the vulnerable, known as Supporting People. Unprecedented cuts to local authority budgets imposed by the coalition mean many councils have been forced to strip back services aimed at preventing homelessness even further.

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The Low Pay Commission has Backed a 3% Minimum Wage Hike

The Low Pay Commission has recommended a 3% increase in the minimum wage to £6.50 an hour for adults, Business Secretary Vince Cable has told MPs.

If the government accepts the proposal, it would be the first increase in real terms since 2008, Mr Cable said.

"It is faster than inflation and that is the first time in six years that has happened," he said.

At present, the minimum wage is £6.31 an hour for adults and £5.03 an hour for 18 to 20-year-olds.

The government usually accepts the Low Pay Commission's recommendations.

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Reduce Demand for Services to Tackle Funding Cuts, Councils Told

Councils could be doing more to make citizens more resilient and reduce demand for public services, according to a Royal Society of Arts report.

Although local authorities will be facing a £14.4bn funding black hole by the end of the decade, relatively few are looking at what can be done to address demand management, the think-tank said.

The report, Managing demand: building future public services, sets out what councils can do to bring about a ‘fundamental cultural shift’ that would ensure outcomes are shaped by active, independent and resilient citizens.

These include adoption of ‘nudge’ and ‘network’ techniques to service areas such as recycling, littering and school transport, engaging the communities in the design and commissioning of services, as well as commissioning more preventative services and focusing on outcomes.

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One in Four Public Sector Workers doing Unpaid Overtime

The number of public sector staff doing unpaid overtime has increased over the last decade, with one in four doing more than their contracted hours, new figures show.

Analysis of official figures by the TUC shows that more than a quarter (27.4%) of public sector staff did unpaid overtime last year, compared to 24.8% in 2003. The average amount of unpaid overtime is 7 hours 42 minutes a week.

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Another 20 Councils Launch 'Cash Cow' Spy Cars that Film Motorists Breaking Road Laws AFTER They were Told the Government is Planning to Make Them Illegal

Town hall chiefs are defying the government and launching CCTV spy cars even after they were told the 'cash cows' will be made illegal, MailOnline can reveal.

Local government secretary Eric Pickles has announced he will ban the controversial vehicles, which film people breaking traffic rules and send them fines of up to £130 in the post.

Yet since his pledge in September, 20 authorities - including one of the country's biggest, Manchester City Council - have either introduced a new spy car regime or have firm plans to do so.

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Keep £347m Emergency Fund, Councils in England and Wales Urge

The government must reverse its decision to drop a "crucial" £347m fund to help families affected by emergencies, councils have said.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents authorities in England and Wales, said the money helped people faced with homelessness or struggling to afford meals.

It was "extremely disappointing" the fund would not be renewed in 2015.

The government said the fund had been "poorly targeted".

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Early Years Education Cuts Irresponsible, Experts Warn

Dozens of Britain's most respected childhood experts have warned the government and local authorities that irresponsible cuts to early years education services risk severely harming the prospects of a generation of children from the most vulnerable families.

In a letter to the Guardian, more than 30 professors and other authorities on early education, including former government advisers, said the closure or paring back of hundreds of children's centres and high quality council-run nurseries for two- and three-year-olds risked causing long-term damage.

The plea, coordinated by the expert organisation Early Education, acknowledged that government spending cuts meant difficult choices, but argued that cutting high-quality early years provision was a false economy.

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Health Inequalities Toolkit for Councils

A toolkit will be created for councils based on research to be carried out on health inequalities.

Public Health England (PHE) has launched a project on the subject that will involve speaking with professionals and community leaders.

PHE will also hold a series of workshops with members of the public to gain ‘valuable insight’.

Knowledge from the project will then be brought together in the toolkit to help councils.

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Thousands of Poorest Children not Receiving Free Care, Report Finds

Some 30,000 of England’s poorest two year olds are missing out on free nursery education under a ‘failing’ government policy, research suggests.

Only three quarters of the most deprived 40% of England’s children have been placed with nurseries and childminders, with councils being urged to deliver on this ‘vital’ support.

Research from the Family and Childcare Trust suggests 37 councils had placed less than 60% of eligible two year olds by November last year, 25 of which were in London.

While statutory guidance obliges local authorities to find places for eligible children, research suggests only 41% of councils have enough places for two-year-olds in all areas.

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Social Work Directors Back On-the-Job Experience

Adult social workers should get on-the-job experience at a council as part of their training, a senior local authority director has said.

The British Association of Social Workers recently highlighted how councils were finding it difficult to offer enough statutory placements due to service cuts.

Joint chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ workforce development network, Joan Beck, admitted it was hard for councils to do as much as they would like but insisted she supported statutory placements.

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Statement to Parliament: Flood Response

Eric Pickles updates Parliament on the flood situation and changes to the Bellwin scheme.

The Bellwin scheme is designed to help local authorities recover the immediate and additional costs they incur when taking action to safeguard lives and properties or to prevent suffering and inconvenience to local residents. The scheme normally works through an application to my department by local authorities once they have determined costs incurred to receive reimbursement.

Last week I took steps to strengthen this scheme in response to the exceptional circumstances caused by this winter’s flooding. The government will now pay 100% of the costs incurred above the threshold, rather than the usual 85%. We have reduced the threshold for all county councils and unitary authorities to make it easier for them to claim Bellwin support. This is the first time that the thresholds have been reduced in 30 years. In a related measure, we have allowed upper tier authorities with responsibility for fire to claim Bellwin on a comparable basis to standalone fire authorities for fire-related costs.

I am today announcing a further extension of this scheme to provide certainty and financial security to local authorities in the frontline. First, local authorities now have until the end of May to incur eligible spending recognising the extended nature of the weather. This vital extension will give councils the reassurance that they will have time to deal with the effects of the weather and still have time to properly assess local costs.

Second, we will allow a large proportion of those Bellwin payments to be made available now, rather than waiting until the situation has cleared up before local authorities can make those claims. This means that local authorities will have access to the cash they need right now to deal with the pressing problems caused by the weather. Local authorities simply need to put in a request to my department and we will pay up to 80% of spending which is eligible under the Bellwin scheme. We will pay the reminder upon receipt of the formal claim through the usual channels. This will be paid quickly, with as little bureaucracy as possible. These changes recognise the exceptional nature of the situation which communities are facing.

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Town Halls Urged to Boost Procurement Skills

Councils need to invest more in their procurement skills to ensure they get best value from the £45bn spent on good and services across local government every year, a committee of MPs has said.

In a report examining the effectiveness of town hall procurement, the communities and local government committee concluded the sector needed ‘to step up to the mark and get better value’ amid government funding cuts.

Committee chair Clive Betts said procurement was critical to delivering local services.

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UK Floods: David Cameron Pledges Unlimited Public Funds

A resolute David Cameron vowed to marshal the forces of the state to tackle the flooding crisis, pledging a wider role for the army and unlimited public funds to protect families.

After two days of Whitehall infighting and mixed messages, the prime minister returned from visiting stricken communities in south-west England to hold a Downing Street press conference at which he sought to assert his authority over the natural disaster.

In words that may yet come back to haunt him, Cameron said: "My message to the country today is this. Money is no object in this relief effort, whatever money is needed for it will be spent. We will take whatever steps are necessary". He insisted "we are a wealthy country and we have taken good care of our public finances".

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Councils not Profiting from Parking Charges, Says LGIU

Local Government Information Unit research has scotched government claims that town halls use parking charges as ‘cash cows’, finding that fewer than one in five councils make a surplus on traffic enforcement.

A survey of 71 councils found that only 19.7% of those polled said they make a surplus, which could then be spent on other transport schemes. The majority stated the money raised covered the cost of traffic enforcement (50.7%) or didn’t raise enough revenue to meet the costs (29.6%).

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Shop Vacancy Rate Lowest for Four Years, Research Suggests

There has been a marked improvement in the number of empty shops on the UK's High Streets, research suggests.

The Local Data Company, which monitors more than 2,000 town and shopping centres and retail parks, said average vacancy rates were below 14% for the first time in four years.

But its report also reveals a growing North-South divide, with some High Streets falling into further decline.

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A Single Council in Leicestershire Could Save £31.4m a Year, Says Report

A single unitary council in Leicestershire would save over £30m a year and reduce council tax bills by 3.1%, according to a new independent report.

The report has been commissioned as the county council tries to find savings of £110m by 2018. It found that the cost of setting up a new council - £12.8m - would be repaid in just over a year through reduced management and support service costs.

The report, published by consultants Ernst and Young, also found dissolving the county council and seven districts and borough councils would cut the number of councillors in Leicestershire from 316 to 100. The savings achieved could also lead to a reduction in council tax of more than £7m per year across the county.

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Minister Urged to Reject Land Charges Takeover

The Land Registry’s proposed takeover of the local land charges function from councils would lead to a ‘more fragmented, more costly and less reliable service’, concerned council officers have argued.

In a letter to minister for business and enterprise, Michael Fallon, the Local Land Charges Institute urged him to reject the proposal.

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Localism Plans ‘Risks Repeating Past Mistakes’

Politicians pledging to devolve power from Whitehall at the next general election must learn from previous failures or risk repeating the errors of attempts to introduce elected mayors and regional assemblies, the Institute for Government has warned.

In a report examining the mistakes of previous attempts to decentralise power in the UK, the think-tank concluded that although political decentralisation was often desirable, it had rarely been successful.

Among the barriers to reform was a resistance within national government, where the centre often lacked faith in the competence of councils and struggled to agree on decentralisation plans.

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LGA: Grant Councils Power to Protect Cyclists

Cyclists could be better protected if councils were granted stronger powers to target dangerous drivers, leaders have said.

Warning that ‘very little’ is being done to tackle inconsiderate drivers, the Local Government Association (LGA) has called for councils to be allowed to enforce cycle lanes and crack down on illegal U-turns and box junction offences.

Town hall leaders said they would target notoriously congested junctions and stretches of road if ministers implemented Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004.

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Treasury Rules Restricted Flood Defence Action, Environment Agency Says

Treasury rules prevented the Environment Agency from investing in river dredging in flood-hit Somerset, the organisation’s chair claimed today.

The agency has come under fire from Communities Secretary Eric Pickles who said it had been a mistake to follow the quango’s advice and not fund earlier dredging work, which could have alleviated the floods currently affecting the Somerset Levels.

But Lord Chris Smith told the BBC that the Environment Agency is bound by Treasury rules that govern how much it can spend on any given flood defence scheme. A cost-benefit rule of £8 of benefit to every £1 of cost applies, he said.

‘On that basis of that calculation it is determined what we can contribute to any particular flood scheme,’ Smith told the Today programme.

Full Article

Decentralisation is ‘Easier Said Than Done’ Finds Think Tank

Achieving Political Decentralisation – Lessons from 30 years of attempting to devolve political power in the UK reveals that lessons have not yet been learnt from previous attempts to decentralise political power such as elected mayors and regional assemblies.

The report examines various case studies into decentralisation, finding that parties must be clear on the scale of change required in order to achieve success. It also warns that manifesto writers should understand the level of political capital that must be spent for change to occur.

Full Article

IFS Calls for Reforms to ‘Ill-Designed’ Business Rates Retention Scheme

The government’s part-localisation of business rates to councils has been ‘ill-designed’ as the plan to reset the system by 2020 means growth incentives will soon diminish, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned.

Analysing the reform to local government finance, which from last April allowed town halls to retain half of the growth in rates, the IFS said the retention system had been hampered by the desire to equalise resources across councils.

Under the scheme, which is intended to give councils an incentive to approve developments and boost the local economy, local authorities retain up to 50% of the business rate growth until 2020. At this point the localisation system – which was established with a series of tariffs and top-ups of rates to ensure each authority had a fair starting point­ – will be reset.

This means the revenue increase retained by each authority could be pooled centrally and then redistributed at the start of a new ten-year period.

Full Article

Pickles Extends Bellwin Scheme for Flood-Hit Councils

Local government secretary Eric Pickles has announced changes to the Bellwin scheme to provide extra assistance to councils hit by the floods and storms in recent months.

In a statement to the House of Commons today, Pickles announced that local authorities would be reimbursed for 100% of the costs above the threshold to claim for the clean-up following recent storms, as opposed to the previous 85%.

In addition, the threshold at which claims can be made – currently set at spending of more than 0.2% of their calculated annual revenue budget on exceptional costs – will be reduced for county councils and unitaries. The period for eligible spending claims will be to the end of March.

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Environment Agency Chief Can Expect Stormy Reception in Somerset

The Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith will travel to the West Country today with another public rebuke ringing in his ears, after Cabinet Minister Eric Pickles rejected his suggestion that Britain should favour town over country when it came to flood-defence spending.

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David Cameron Pledges Extra £100m for Flood Repairs - and £10m for Urgent Work in Somerset

David Cameron has pledged an extra £100 million will be spent over the next year tackling the aftermath of the devastating floods.

Some £75 million will fund repairs, £15 million will go on maintenance and £10 million has been earmarked for “urgent work” in Somerset, the Prime Minister said.

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Pickles Reveals Preference for 1% Council Tax Referendum Threshold

Eric Pickles has confessed he would have ‘preferred’ a 1% council tax referendum threshold, despite the recent announcement of a maintained 2% cap.

Conservatives were reportedly pushing for all local decisions on council tax raises over 1.5% to be taken to a community vote.

However, the Department for Communities and Local Government this week confirmed the limit would remain at 2%.

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Legal Duties May Not be Deliverable, Third of Councils Warn

More than one in three councils believe financial constraints may stop them delivering their legal duties, research by The MJ and think tank LGiU has found.

With council tax effectively capped, council bosses have warned that radical action is needed if local authorities are to prove financially sustainable.

Some nine in ten senior council figures surveyed said that the local government finance system was not fit for purpose.

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One-Third of Authorities Back Council Tax Freeze So Far

Just over one-third of councils in England have so far agreed to accept a government grant to freeze or cut their council tax from April, latest figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government have indicated.

Following yesterday’s announcement that town halls will have to hold a local referendum if they plan to increase the tax by 2% or more, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles urged councils to accept the Whitehall freeze grant.

Councils are being offered the equivalent of a 1% increase on a Band D property if they hold down tax rates, and the grant is also being included in baseline funding for future years. This amounts to £550m available to town halls in 2013/14, Pickles said.

According to figures published by the DCLG, 129 of England’s 353 local authorities have so far agreed to accept freeze funding (36%), as have five police authorities and three fire authorities.

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Pickles says Councillors' Voting Habits Should be Made Public

Councils will be required to publish details of how each councillor votes on budget decisions such as raising or freezing council tax.

Mr Pickles said the new regulations to put individual voting records in the public domain would increase council transparency and accountability.

Mr Pickles said: ‘Much like an MP, how a councillor votes should be a matter of public record so the electorate can see each decision has their best interests at heart.

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Councils Recoup £1bn Lost to Icelandic Bank Collapse

Around £1bn of cash tied up in failed Icelandic banks has now been recovered by local authorities.

Just under £1.05bn had been deposited by councils in four Icelandic banks at the time of their collapse in 2008.

Following the sale of most councils’ remaining claims against the former banks through a competitive auction, it is now thought these authorities will have recovered more than 90p for every £1 invested in Landsbanki (LBI), Glitnir, Heritable and Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander.

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Town Halls Asked to Help Freeze Council Tax This Year

Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, has called on councils to take up the offer of additional central government funding to help freeze Council Tax this year.

Since 2010, the government has worked with local authorities to reduce the cost of living by freezing Council Tax, cutting average bills in England by 10% in real terms. This compares to a period between 1997 and 2010, when council tax more than doubled.

A further freeze offer is on offer this year and next, and was announced by the Chancellor in June 2013. The government is providing up to £550 million in extra Whitehall grants, to each local authority that freezes their bills from this April.

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Council Tax Referendum Trigger to Remain at 2%

Local government minister Brandon Lewis has confirmed that the referendum trigger for council tax increases will remain at 2% as part of the final local government finance settlement for 2014/15.

Lewis announced today that, following a consultation after the provisional settlement was published last December, the government had decided to implement the proposals unchanged. This means town halls face an average 2.9% cut in spending power.

The method used to calculate each authority’s increase has been altered, to include bodies such as local waste disposal authorities, integrated transport authorities and local government pension authorities. Previously, their levies had been excluded from the calculation of the referendum trigger.

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George Osborne Warned 'Hugely Challenging' Public Service Cuts Still to Come

Britain faces ''hugely challenging'' cuts in public services after next year's general election if Chancellor George Osborne is to achieve his target of returning the nation's finances to surplus by 2018/19, a respected economic think tank warned today.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned against a ''false sense that all is now well'' as a result of the return to healthy growth in the economy, pointing out that only 40% of Mr Osborne's cuts will have been delivered by the end of this year, with the remaining 60% still to come.

However, forecasts provided to the IFS by Oxford Economics painted a sunnier picture, raising the prospect that solid GDP growth in the next few years may remove the need for the Chancellor's austerity plans to be implemented in full.

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Councils in England 'Pay too Little for Home Care'

Most councils in England are paying less than the industry recommended minimum for personal home care, a BBC investigation suggests.

The UK Homecare Association (UKHCA), which represents providers, want them to be paid a minimum of £15.19 an hour, to cover wages, training and travel.

But data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act found the minimum paid met that in just four out of 101 cases.

One provider said quality care was not possible at the levels being paid.

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Children to Start Going to School from the Age of TWO in Bid to Help Working Parents

Children as young as two will start going to school under government plans to help working parents.

Education minister Liz Truss is writing to every council in England to suggest that school nurseries widen their intake to youngsters a year earlier.

As well as increasing access to childcare she also hopes the move will dramatically improve the academic ability of toddlers to give them a head start in their education.

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Council Staff to Protest over Fair Pay

Describing the current state of local government pay as ‘disastrous’, trade union Unison said local government staff had faced a ‘devastating’ three year pay freeze followed by a ‘miserly’ 1% increase last year.

According to the union, this represents an 18% fall in pay in real terms - falling back to the level of the 1990s.

More than half a million local government staff earn less than the Living Wage - £8.80 in London and £7.65 in the rest of the country – while a million sit below the Coalition’s ‘low pay’ threshold of £21,000.

Unsion, GMB and Unite - which represent 1.6m local government staff – are calling for a £1.20 minimum hourly increase to bring the bottom rate of council pay in line with the Living Wage and restore pay lost by high earners.

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New Homes Bonus Payouts Show Britain is Building

Communities will be rewarded for helping deliver over half a million homes across the country, Housing Minister Kris Hopkins has confirmed.

The minister published final allocations for this year’s New Homes Bonus payments, totalling over £900 million, which will be shared among England’s 353 councils.

The announcement means that since the New Homes Bonus began in 2011, councils will be receiving funding for delivering 550,000 newly-built homes and conversions, including over 160,000 affordable homes, and for bringing 93,000 empty homes back into use.

These final allocations bring the total given to councils since the scheme’s launch to over £2 billion.

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Whitehall's Forecasting Flaws Undermining Value for Money, Says NAO

Whitehall departments are failing to take forecasting seriously enough and the process is hampered by poor quality data and unrealistic assumptions, according to the National Audit Office.

In a scathing report, the watchdog said these weaknesses contributed to budget overruns, programme delays and heaped unnecessary costs onto taxpayers.

‘Departments generally treat forecasting of future spending as little more than a technical activity, of limited relevance to financial management,’ said NAO head Amyas Morse.

‘In fact, high-quality forecasting is an indispensable element of project planning and implementation.’

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Poorest Face £80 Rise in Council Tax as Benefit is Cut

More than 270,000 of the poorest households in England face council tax hikes of £80 a year as the government's safety net is withdrawn, a survey of local authorities has revealed.

Using freedom of information requests, research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that from April another 48 local authorities are reducing protection for vulnerable residents.

Ministers cut funding for the means-tested benefit by £500m, around 10% of the total, last April and instructed local authorities to decide how the reduced benefit should be distributed.

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Clegg's School Meals Plan in Chaos

Nick Clegg has ditched a vow to give all pupils under seven a free hot meal every day because thousands of schools are unable to cook them, according to Government sources. Despite £150 million being spent upgrading kitchens, too many schools lack the facilities to cope. The LGA warned there was a danger that communities could be ‘short-changed’ unless ministers produce more cash to pay for the refurbishments needed. Officials now say a packed lunch or salad will count as a “nutritious meal”.

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Audit Commission Closure Confirmed in Law But Questions Remain

It is not yet clear what public sector bodies will take on some of the Audit Commission’s responsibilities after its abolition, the local spending watchdog said today as the date of its abolition was confirmed.

Speaking after the Local Audit and Accountability Act that will shut the commission received Royal Assent, chair Jeremy Newman said discussions were continuing about what organisations would assume responsibility for its value for money profiles tool and counter-fraud work.

The Act confirmed the commission will close, as expected, on March 31 next year. In its place will be a new framework for local public audit, due to start after the current contracts with audit suppliers end in 2019/20 at the latest. Under this regime, local public bodies, including councils, will appoint their own auditors.

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Local Audit and Accountability Act Has Passed Into Law

The Act will bring about the closure of the Audit Commission and in its place create a new framework for local audit. The Audit Commission’s burdensome inspections have already been scrapped, and its audit contracts have been successfully outsourced.

The Act also introduces new measures to protect the independent free press from unfair competition by town hall newspapers by strengthening the legal status of the existing publicity code for local authorities.

Finally, the Act also extends the successful council tax referendum provisions introduced in the Localism Act so local taxpayers can veto excessive council tax increases. The Act will ensure charges imposed on them by external bodies - such as waste disposal authorities, integrated transport authorities, and internal drainage boards - are taken into account.

The Act also provides new transparency measures, so citizens and press now have the right to film and tweet from any local government body meeting.

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CIPFA and LGA to Launch Local Government Finance Commission

CIPFA and the Local Government Association have today announced their intention to create an independent commission to examine the future of local government finance.

The commission will examine how to create fair funding of local government both through direct revenue raising and the distribution of resources, as well as the allocation of resources at local level. It will also look at the commissioning and provision of services at a local level and the system of local accountability for tax and spend decisions. 

Full details of the commission, including its terms of reference, members and chair will be announced shortly.

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Minister Lambastes Council Commissioners

Health minister Norman Lamb has accused council commissioners of ‘sometimes being lazy’ in their treatment of people with learning disabilities.

Mr Lamb said it was a ‘scandal’ that some people with learning disabilities were cared for ‘hundreds of miles from home’.

Speaking in the House of Commons, he said: ‘I have described the task of changing the behaviour of commissioners with regard to people with learning disabilities as like wading through treacle backwards.

‘This is not about money because we have spent enormous sums of public money on putting people in inappropriate care.

‘This is therefore not about the Government being mean with public money.

‘In my view, it is about commissioners at a local level sometimes being lazy and not taking proper account of the rights of people with learning disabilities to lead as good a life as they can.

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Pickles: I Bash Local Government Because I Love It

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has insisted he ‘bashes’ local government because he loves the sector.

Speaking at the #AskPickles session of the communities and local government committee yesterday, at which Twitter users had submitted 1,600 questions, he said: ‘When I do a bit of bashing it’s in the confines of a very deep and loving relationship.

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NHS Director Reveals 'Great Scepticism' over Government's £3.8bn Better Care Fund

England's top doctor has said that there are fears in the NHS that a flagship government fund aimed at helping the health service work more closely with local authorities to provide social care, will be wrongly used by councils for “filling in potholes and other significant things”.

Speaking to the House of Commons Health Select Committee, Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England's medical director, said there was “great scepticism” that the £3.8bn Better Care Fund would achieve one of its stated aims of reducing demand on A&E services.

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Wigan Council Seeks ‘Contract’ with Residents

Wigan Council is calling on residents to agree to a new ‘contract’ in a bid to avoid job losses and cuts to frontline services.

The council has launched the Wigan Deal, with the council promising to protect services and keep council tax down in return for the public helping to balance the books. This includes recycling more, volunteering and using online services.

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Royal borough Cuts Council Tax for Fifth Year Running

Council tax will be cut for the fifth year in a row by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.

The council has announced a tax cut of 2% for 2014/15, which will see council tax fall by £19.38 for a Band D property. The council said this alone would put £1.3m back into the local economy.

Leader of the council, Cllr David Burbage, said the cut was possible due to its 'forensic approach to wiping out unnecessary spending'.

Cllr Simon Dudley, the council's cabinet member for finance, said: 'We are also sending out the message that there will be no let up in our commitment to first rate services.

'The Royal Borough has a track record of council tax cuts without cutting services. Instead, we have a laser-like focus on finding efficencies, cutting waste and developing smarter, leaner and more effective ways of working. We run our finances knowing that it is residents’ money to spend prudently.'

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Islington Council Agrees 'Fairer Deal' for Home Carers

Home carers in Islington will be paid a London Living Wage of at least £8.80 per hour, under new contract arrangements announced by the council.

Islington Council has announced the new contract terms, which will see 800 carers paid the increased wage. The council will also increase personal budgets so service users can pay staff they employ directly the London Living Wage.

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Real-Terms Pay Hit Continues for Public Sector Staff

Public sector workers are an average £23 a month worse off compared to this time last year, according to pay data.

The VocaLink Take Home Pay Index showed that the rate of decline in public sector real take-home pay growth had slowed to -1.4% in the three months to the end of December 2013, up from -1.8% in the three months to the end of November.

However, it highlighted the hit workers had taken on their pay packets, with real net income down £23 a month compared with December 2012 and down £127 when compared with December 2009 figures.

In other sectors of the economy, take-home pay had picked up.

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New Missing Children Rules Require ‘Dramatic Improvement’ from Councils

Councils will now need to offer children who go missing from home or care an independent interview on their return.

Announcing the new rules, children and families minister Edward Timpson said local authorities needed to make ‘dramatic improvements’ to the support they provided for missing children within the next six months.

Every child who returns from having run away will now receive an independent interview organised by its local authority.

Developed in conjunction with The Children’s Society, the new rules were published as part of the Government’s revised statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care.

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Whitehall and Southwest Councils Agree Plymouth City Deal

Plymouth’s city region is to receive a £34m funding package from government to boost the region’s marine and advanced manufacturing industry as part of its City Deal with ministers.

The agreement signed between local authorities of the southwest peninsula and the Cabinet Office on Friday is intended to create more than 9,000 jobs by freeing up public sector land to allow firms to grow.

Under the pact, land at the Devonport Naval Base in the city will be transferred to Plymouth City Council and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership. The spare land will then be made available for development by marine companies, as it has access to deep water which is needed for marine research, development, and testing.

As part of the scheme, £19m of public sector funding will be available to provide the infrastructure needed for development, including £9m from central government. It is hoped that as much as £262m of private sector investment could be secured over the long term.

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We WILL Build Two New Garden Cities to Tackle the Country's Housing Crisis, Says Pickles

Eric Pickles has confirmed that two 'garden cities' could be built in the south east in a bid to tackle Britain's housing crisis.

The Communities Secretary insisted that they would not be forced on unwilling new communities, and said local councils had already come forward to express an interest.

He insisted his department had not been responsible for drawing up a document, which was reported last week as proposing new settlements at Yalding in Kent and Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire.

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Care Homes Have Failed One in Three Inspections Since 2010

One in three care home inspections results in failure with some facilities being allowed to continue operating despite repeatedly failing to meet standards, figures disclose.

Care homes have been allowed to remain open despite never having passed inspections set by the independent watchdog. Some have been allowed to fail as many as nine consecutive times, analysis reveals.

Of 46,464 inspections carried out on care homes since 2010, 15,059 resulted in failure - the equivalent of one in three.

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Bids Invited for £4.3m ‘Our Place’ Community Budgets

The government’s expanded neighbourhood community budgets programme has been opened for applications from groups wanting to develop reforms to local public services.

The Our Place programme is to be expanded to more than 100 new areas following 12 successful pilot schemes in England.

Community development group Locality, which was appointed by the government last month to lead the £4.3m programme, today began the application process.

 The scheme brings local people, community groups and providers together to identify where improvements could be made to services such as adult social care, health or employment.

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LGA Recruits Advisers for Bonds Agency Plan

The Local Government Association has today appointed a panel of advisors to develop its business case for a municipal bonds agency.

The umbrella group of authorities has announced that Aidan Brady, a chartered accountant with more than 20 years experience including a stint at Deutsche Bank UK, has been named lead advisor on the plans. 

In addition Lars Andersson, the founder and first chief executive of the Kommuninvest agency in Sweden, and Francis Breedon, professor of economics and finance at Queen Mary University of London, will act as strategic advisors.

Last November it was announced that 18 councils had signed up to develop plans to create a Scandinavian-style collective municipal bond agency.

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Norfolk CC Unites with HP to Harness Big Data

Norfolk CC has announced it will collaborate with HP in a bid to harness data from multiple agencies across the region.

A cloud based information hub will take on the economic and social value of data held by Norfolk and its partner agencies, helping to inform knowledge of the local economy and enabling the town hall to make evidence-based decisions.

Norfolk affirmed creation of a platform for information on the council and its partners would create ‘a single view’ of service delivery, potentially enabling savings of around 20%.

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Call For Help with £400m Flooding Repair

The government is being urged to help English and Welsh councils, who warn that they face a £400m repair bill for damage caused by storms and flooding.

The Local Government Association said the storms and floods left behind "a daunting trail of destruction".

It has asked the Department for Transport to create a highways maintenance emergency fund.

The government is expected to announce £7m extra aid for local authorities with storm repairs later.

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George Osborne Calls for Rise in Minimum Wage

George Osborne has called for a significant rise in the minimum wage to compensate low-income workers for the economic crisis.

Pushing up wages will “make sure that we have a recovery for all and that work pays,” the Chancellor said in a move apparently aimed at Labour voters.

It comes days after Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said he would “rescue the middle classes”.

Mr Osborne’s support for higher wages last night drew warnings from business groups that increasing employers’ costs could result in job losses and hamper the economic recovery.

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Government Refuses to Lower Social Care Eligibility Criteria

The Government has refused to lower the proposed social care eligibility criteria to 'moderate'.

Speaking in a House of Commons public bill committee, care and support minister Norman Lamb said it would cost £2.7bn.

Some MPs had argued for the eligibility threshold to be reduced in the Care Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament.

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Authorities Must Be ‘Heart’ of Care and Health Integration

Councils must be at the ‘heart’ of the integration of care and health services, local government minister Brandon Lewis urged in a speech.

In his presentation to The King’s Fund charity, Mr Lewis said the status quo must be torn up but stressed that integration would not work unless the health and social sectors were equal partners.

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Green Councillors in Brighton to Push for Referendum on Council Tax Rise

Britain's only Green council administration – in Brighton and Hove – is to take the bold step of trying to stage a referendum to see if there is consent among local people for a council tax rise of 4.75%.

The Green leadership wants to use the extra money to fund adult social care services, including care for the elderly, and grants to third-sector organisations.

The Greens are a minority administration and would need either the abstention or support of either Tory or Labour councillors to push the referendum through.

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Council Tax Freeze 2014 to 2015 Scheme

The DCLG has published a letter to local authorities informing them of the 2014 to 2015 council tax freeze scheme along with indicative 2014-15 freeze grants for each authority.

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Elderly Should Have Right to Care if They Cannot Do Housework, Says Former Care Minister

Elderly people would have a legal right to care in their homes if they struggle to carry out basic household tasks such as cleaning or cooking under plans being put forward by a former minister.

Paul Burstow, the former care minister, and a cross-party group of MPs, have tabled an amendment to the Government’s care Bill to write into law a basic minimum level of frailty below which people should expect to qualify for care.

It will attempt to reverse a trend which has seen hundreds of thousands of elderly and disabled people who would previously have received state-funded care shut out of the system.

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Oxfordshire County Council Considers Inviting Donations

Oxfordshire County Council is considering setting up a web page for people to donate money to the authority.

The Conservative-led council is exploring ways to collect funds from residents who are willing to pay more than their share of council tax.

In December, it announced £64.7m of cuts over the next four years.

Finance councillor Aresh Fatemian said a number of people had already offered to pay more council tax.

Residents are currently not allowed to pay extra council tax and anyone who does is automatically refunded.

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Eric Pickles Plans Tax Squeeze on 'Democracy Dodger' Councils

Ministers are proposing to reduce to 1.5% the amount by which councils can increase council tax without seeking approval from residents, putting a further squeeze on the autonomy of local government and causing a clash with the Home Office over potential cuts to the police.

Leaked cabinet papers also show that the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, plans to take action against councils that in the past three years have consistently imposed increases just under the current threshold of 2%.

His plans have faced protests from the home secretary, Theresa May, who warned in the cabinet exchanges that police forces needed greater flexibility in funding or they would suffer cuts that could endanger services.

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Cameron Promises Councils 'Fracking' Tax Boost

Councils that back "fracking" will get to keep more money in tax revenue as part of an "all-out" drive to promote drilling, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

Mr Cameron said English local authorities would receive all the business rates collected from shale gas schemes - rather than the usual 50%.

The government says projects will support 74,000 jobs and reduce bills.

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Union Calls for 'Hefty' Pay Rise for Low-Paid Workers

The case for local government workers to receive a ‘hefty pay increase is unanswerable’, trade union Unite has said.

Unite said public sector pay restraint alongside the increasing cost of living had led to low paid local government workers losing out by an estimated £2,831 in real terms.

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Union Warns Worse Council Cuts to Come

Unison has warned that the worst is yet to come after figures showed English councils had been forced to cut almost £11bn from their budgets.

The trade union said service expenditure by local authorities in England fell by £10.8bn to £80.3bn between 2010/11 and 2012/13.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘The figures showing that almost £11bn in real terms has already been cut from council budgets are truly shocking.

They reveal the true scale of the devastating cuts that took place in the first two years of the Coalition government and it is alarming that the worst is yet to come, with another £5.2bn of cuts planned by 2015/16.'

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Council Leaders Warn of £1bn Cut to Council Tax Support

Council tax has become ‘more regressive’ as a result of the localisation of support, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.

A LGA report on council tax support published yesterday also warned that further cuts in funding would lead to the poorest paying an increased slice of their income in council tax in a ‘sizeable number’ of areas.

The same report claimed that the cut in central support for council tax benefit to April 2016 could be as much as £1bn.

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Betts Refers PM’s Council Cuts Claim to Statistics Watchdog

The chair of the local government select committee has made a formal complaint to the UK’s statistics watchdog over Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim that future local government spending would fall by only 2.3%.

Clive Betts has called on UK Statistics Authority chair Sir Andrew Dilnot to investigate the figure – first used by Chancellor George Osborne in June’s Spending Review and repeated by the prime minister – that ‘local government spending will drop by just 2.3% in future years’.

Betts said this had been ‘widely decried by every informed and independent body’ and neither the Treasury nor the Department for Communities and Local Government have provided evidence for how the figure was calculated. A 2.9% average reduction in council spending power for 2014/15 was announced by DCLG last month.

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Business Rate Changes ‘Increase Councils’ Financial Risk’

Reforms to local government finance to allow councils to retain half of business rate growth have increased the level of financial risk faced by town halls, an analysis of the changes has found.

Examining the impact of the part-localisation since it was introduced in April 2013, the Local Government Association said the impact had been ‘varied’ across councils in England.

However, there were common concerns among authorities that the level of financial risk they face had increased, with town halls now exposed to both the impact of appeals against rate valuations and avoidance of the tax.

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DCLG to Tackle Neighbourhood Budget Barriers, Says Programme Chief

The Department for Communities and Local Government has pledged to address Whitehall barriers holding up neighbourhood Community Budgets, a senior figure in the rollout of the initiative has revealed.

Community development group Locality was appointed by the government last month to lead an expansion of neighbourhood budget programmes, known as Our Place, to more than 100 new areas across England. The scheme brings local people, community groups and service providers together to identify where improvements could be made.

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Central and Local Government Team up to Improve Local Service Delivery

A new fund has been launched to help local authorities transform their services through the use of new delivery models such as mutuals and voluntary organisations.

Delivering Differently is a joint programme between the Cabinet Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) that will use a £1 million fund to support 10 pioneering local authorities to develop and implement new models for delivering some of their services.

Government is encouraging local authorities to apply for this support. The successful applicants will be able to transform their services by combining the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors through partnering, mutualisation, or other innovative forms of commercial model.

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