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News Headlines

 

Miliband pledges London-style bus service across England

Ed Miliband will promise later that a Labour government would grant cities and regions greater powers to improve bus services across England.

The Labour leader will say cities and counties should be able to set bus fares and routes and integrate them with local tram and rail services.

He will say that bus services outside London currently "fail to serve the public interest".

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Government response to the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance

Eric Pickles responds to the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance. Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:

This government has delivered significant decentralisation of power and finance to local communities. There is real scope to go further in England and do more. Localism should be about devolving power to the lowest appropriate level – down to councils, down to neighbourhoods and down to individuals. We need to join up different public services to deliver better services and do more for less.

 

However, we completely disagree with the report’s proposals to increase Council Tax. Revaluation and higher Council Tax bands would means soaring tax bills for hard-working people, as the 2005 Council Tax revaluation in Wales showed. Instead, this government is working to keep Council Tax down – our Council Tax freeze has cut bills by 11% in real terms since 2010, and further funding for a Council Tax freeze is available to councils next year too.

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Council tax bands urged to be revalued

Local authorities should be able to set new council tax bands to reflect property price rises as part of a shake-up of town hall finance, an independent commission has said.

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ICLGF Interim Report

The interim report from the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance has been released on October 30

The commission was set up because Local Government finance urgently needs reform and this interim report

• Identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the local government finance system

• Brings forward practical options for reform in the next Parliament and suggests a range of measures to make local government financially self-sufficient

• Seeks reform across all areas of Local government including growth, housing supply, effective welfare provision, affordable health and social care, and early support to families and children.

The report is essential reading for those that agree with Chair of the Commission on Local Government Finance, Darra Singh. who says ‘The challenges are staring us in the face and we just need to try to be more radical,’.

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Care plan 'to ease hospital pressure' in England

Vulnerable patients in England will get better support in the community as part of plans to ease pressure on hospitals, ministers say.

Joint teams of social care workers and NHS staff such as nurses and physios will become available seven days a week under the changes being unveiled.

The move is part of the government's Better Care Fund to join up the NHS and council-run social care systems.

It comes as a new analysis showed hospitals were under growing pressure

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Thames Water to pay council tax for Cowley flood victims

Flood victims are to have their council tax paid by a water company after being forced out of their homes when a water main burst.

Thames Water offered the money to residents of Normandy Crescent in Cowley, Oxford, after 50 properties were affected last month.

It could be several months before they are able to move back.

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Home carers' travel 'goes unpaid', Unison says

Most councils in England and Wales are failing to ensure home care workers are paid the national minimum wage, figures obtained by the Unison union suggest.

It says freedom of information figures show just 6% of local authorities make it a contractual condition for care providers to pay workers' travel time.

Non-payment of travel time means many are not paid the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour, Unison says.

Councils say stipulating that providers pay for travel time is unnecessary.

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Troubled Families programme turning 117,000 lives around

Eric Pickles has welcomed the latest success of the Troubled Families programme, a crucial part of the government’s long-term economic plan to the turn the country around and help bring security and opportunity to families and communities.

The Communities Secretary welcomed the latest success of the scheme, which has now succeeded in reaching almost all of the hardest to help homes in the country that the Prime Minister pledged to help.

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As Tiers go By: A Collaborative Future for Counties and Districts

New research, supported by PwC, shows that the spectre of unitary status is still holding back the potential for local collaboration, as local partners focus on the potential for nationally imposed reorganisation instead of focusing on the challenging business of working together.

The report, entitled As Tiers Go By: A collaborative future for counties and districts, says that if ministers and their shadows really want collaboration in the shires, then they must unequivocally rule out unitary status and instead back a new generation of policy aimed at encouraging joint working.

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Councils Public Health Spending on Mental Health 'Unacceptably Low'

A report by the mental health charity Mind has found that on average only 1.4% of local authorities' public health budget is spent on preventing mental health problems. According to the charity, in 2014/15 local authorities plan to spend £76m on increasing physical activity, £160m on anti-smoking initiatives and £671m on sexual health services This compares with just £40m on public mental health.

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Britain's failing care system faces £4.3bn funding black hole

Tens of thousands of frail pensioners who need help with basic tasks such as washing, dressing, shopping and eating could be left to fend for themselves as the system spirals into crisis.

Budget cuts and an increase in demand as more people live longer have sparked the shortfall.

And the situation is now so bad that if integration of health and social care services next year is not successful, the care system could collapse.

The warning was made by the Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils across England and Wales, and the Association of Directors of Social Services

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Social workers ‘need more secretaries and less paperwork’

Secretaries could hold the answer to improving standards in social work, the head of the field’s professional body has told The Independent.

Annie Hudson, chief executive of the College of Social Work, said more administrative staff would save pushed social workers from being distracted by “bureaucratic burdens” and mean they could get on with helping children and vulnerable adults.

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Reforms to the firefighters' pension scheme

Regulations setting out the terms of the reformed firefighters’ pension scheme, and consultation on fitness standards and assessment.

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Department of Health Publishes Final Care Act Guidance

The Department of Health has published its response to the Care Act consultation, alongside proposed final regulations that will apply local authorities when the Act comes into force in April 2015. DH consulted over the summer on the draft Care Act regulations and  received more than 4,000 responses. The response to the consultation states: “Many consultation responses, in particular those from local government, highlighted concerns about adequate funding for social care.” As a result, the government has changed its estimates to reflect “a larger number of potential recipients, and show additional costs in the first year and beyond – rising to an additional £100m per year”.

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Record Levels of Fraud Detected by Councils, Says Audit Commission

A new Audit Commission report has revealed that detection of fraud by councils has increased by 10% since 1990, when the Commission first started reporting. The report, ‘Protecting the Public Purse 2014: Fighting Fraud Against Local Government’, found that in 2013/2014 councils identified fraud valued at £188m. However, the commission also warned that councils’ attempts to address fraud were under threat from continued financial pressure, while changes in government policies such as Right to Buy and social care choice could unintentionally heighten fraud risks.

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City Growth Commission Publishes Final Report

A study by the RSA City Growth Commission has published its final findings, stating that enabling cities to make their own decisions on raising and spending could boost growth by £79bn a year by 2030. The Commission, chaired by former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill, said 'There needs to be a radical reshaping of the UK's political economy, with our metros given sufficient decision-making powers and financial flexibilities in order to become financially self-sustainable'.

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Whitehall suffers from confusion over decisions, say MPs

Taxpayers are getting poorer value for money from government projects because of "confusion" over decision-making, MPs have warned.

The Public Accounts Committee found a "lack of clarity" over the role of the Treasury, Downing Street and the Cabinet Office in reforming services.

Meanwhile, ministers had to overcome "resistance" among some civil servants to change, it added.

But the government said it had strengthened efficiency in Whitehall.

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George Osborne eyes business rates reform for 'northern powerhouse cities

The Chancellor is looking at allowing local authorities in the North to keep a greater proportion of the revenues raised from business rates in their area, it can be revealed.

It is understood that the move to devolve more economic powers to cities including Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool could form part of George Osborne’s Autumn Statement in December.

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RAC calls for higher investment in road maintenance

Motoring groups are calling for increased investment in road maintenance after a study showed drivers pay four times as much in taxes than is spent by the government on the roads.

A report for the RAC Foundation said that spending had dropped to £7.5bn in 2012 while the exchequer’s total take from motoring taxes remained just under £31bn – £24.8bn from fuel duty and £5.9bn from vehicle excise duty. In 2009, the amount spent on roads was £9.7bn, a third of the tax raised.

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Council asks: so what would you cut?

Durham County Council is using a Monopoly-style game at public consultations, encouraging players to find £100m-worth of savings to council services from a £400 million budget. Speaking about budget cuts, Cllr David Sparks, Chair of the Local Government Association, said: “On the surface it appears that local government has been able to make economies through efficiencies and continues to deliver services to a standard that satisfies most people. This disguises the reality that a price has been paid by individuals.”

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English councils failing to help most vulnerable, homelessness charity finds

Some of the most vulnerable homeless people in England, including domestic violence victims and those with learning difficulties, are shunned by councils and forced to sleep rough, according to an undercover investigation by Crisis.

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Cost of dying 'rose more than 10% last year'

The "cost of dying" is more than 10% higher than it was this time last year, according to a report.

Dr Kate Woodthorpe, a sociologist from the University of Bath and author of the SunLife report, said the costs of funerals were rising "on numerous fronts".

Funeral directors' fees reflect the costs of "staff salaries, the expense of running a business, but also the costs recovered by local authorities", she explained.

"Local authorities are trying to preserve land by removing subsidies for burial, and in the case of cremation trying to recover the costs of meeting mercury emissions targets," she said.

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Auditors Identify Future Scenarios for Councils

A report from audit firm Grant Thornton, produced with the University of Birmingham, has called for a discussion about the future of local government in England. The report proposes re-organising 'local government structures to achieve real devolution and efficiency' arguing 'there is an urgent need for debate on this’. The report identified six potential scenarios for the future of local government, which depend on how the political and financial environments develop:  adaptive innovation - running to stand still - nostril above the waterline - wither on the vine - just local administration - imposed disruption.

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Local Welfare Provision Consultation Launched by DCLG

A six-week consultation on proposals for the future funding of Local Welfare Provision has been published by DCLG. The Government is maintaining its position that no new funding for the provision will be available from next April. It sets out three options: going ahead with plans to merge the funding into local government budgets or maintaining separate welfare grants. This could be done by either setting out how much of each authority’s Settlement Funding Assessment would notionally relate to local welfare provision based on previous trends, or by top slicing Revenue Support Grant funding to provide a dedicated fund.

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Councils need fly-tipping powers, says LGA

Councils in England and Wales should be given new powers to impose on-the-spot fines to tackle fly-tipping, the LGA has said. It said fly-tipping was costing local authorities about £36 million a year to deal with an estimated 711,000 cases. The LGA’s Cllr Peter Box said: "It is utterly unacceptable and inexcusable for anyone to dump waste illegally and councils know how much people hate seeing this sort of vandalism on their doorsteps. All the figures show that the huge amount of effort local authorities put into preventing and tackling fly-tipping is having a real impact - but new powers would ensure it goes even further.” LGA Environment spokesman Cllr Mike Jones was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Breakfast.

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Local Government Strike Called Off

Unions have called off their planned national strike for local government. Unison, Unite and GMB workers were expected to strike on Tuesday against at a pay offer worth 1%. The unions said they plan to consult their members on new proposals put forward by the Local Government Association as the "best achievable" by negotiation. A statement from the unions said  "All three unions have made it clear that they want to strengthen the collective bargaining machinery covering local government and schools and move quickly to jointly tackle important issues facing their members with the Local Government Association”.

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Councils urged to bid for £178m borrowing programme

Councils have been urged to apply for a share of £178m to build new affordable homes.

Housing minister, Brandon Lewis, confirmed six new councils have been granted new powers enabling them to borrow £60m. Sixteen councils have previously been allowed to borrow £62m to deliver over 1,000 new affordable homes.

However, Mr Lewis warned there was only one week left for councils to bid for the second round of extra borrowing.

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Standard of care in England's homes not good enough'

Too much "awful care" is happening in care homes in England, the chief inspector of adult social care at the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has told the BBC.

The standard of care in homes in England is "not good enough at the moment", Andrea Sutcliffe admitted.

CQC publishes new plans for how it will regulate, inspect and rate care homes on Thursday.

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Minister to sign £270 million Heart of the South West Growth Deal

Greg Clark, Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, will join up with councils and businesses from across the South West to sign the £270.3 million Heart of the South West Growth Deal. The deal secures £130.3 million of government funding, as well as a further £140 million of additional investment from local partners and the private sector.

The official signing ceremony will take place at the Exeter Science Park.

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The NHS must learn to be smarter

Andrew Haldenby, Director of think-tank Reform, said more money will not be enough on its own to save the NHS. He said: “The right response to the ageing population is to find new ways to treat patients near to home, and in their homes, rather than ferry them to expensive hospitals.” He argues that the NHS needs to smarter in how it provides services as demand surges in the same way local authorities have had to be over the last few years. He said that council budgets being cut by a third has acted “as a catalyst to do things differently and take tough decisions that were put off in better times”.

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How to make those who would benefit pay for radical improvements in social care

Dame Kate Barker, Chair of the Commission on the Future of Health and Social Care in England, said the current health and social care system “is not fit for purpose”. She said the cost of growing demand for social care must be paid for by those likely to benefit. This would mean raising £1.4 billion by means-testing free TV licences and winter fuel payments and a further £3.3 billion by increasing National Insurance payments for those over 40 and the better off.

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Minister to sign £200 million Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Deal

Greg Clark, Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, will today join up with councils and business leaders from across Cornwall to sign the £198.9 million Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Deal.

The deal secures £48.9 million of government funding, as well as a further £150 million of additional investment from local partners and the private sector.

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Let local government deal with property revaluation

As party conference season draws to a close, it is the Lib Dems who have been the most vocal on local issues.

But the Lib Dems have hit council tax square on. Having been in the Treasury for a few years, Danny Alexander has now dismissed previous plans for a ‘mansion tax’ – now taken up by David Miliband as the next big thing – as unworkable. Instead, he has called for more top rate bands to make the system fairer.

I’m all in favour of upgrading the council tax system, but would probably argue for a regional banding. The current system causes as many difficulties in Liverpool – where house prices are cheap – as it does in London, at the other end of the scale.

But to update the council tax system, a full property revaluation would also be needed. It is now nine years since David Miliband ‘postponed’ revaluation – and it was well overdue then.

Subsequent secretaries of state have shied away from revaluation fearing the political fall-out – and who can blame them? My solution is simple: pass the whole problem down to local government, carry out revaluation at a local level and hand over the power to add in extra bands.

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Councils will slash emergency welfare schemes if ministers cut £175m grant

Almost three-quarters of local authorities will abandon or scale back welfare schemes designed to provide emergency help for England’s most vulnerable citizens from next April because of government funding cuts, ministers have been warned.

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Local government will ‘fall over’ without reform

former Treasury advisor has warned that the system of local taxation in England is ‘broke’, and has called for a radical transformation of the state through devolution in response to spending reductions.

Speaking at CIPFA’s fringe event at the Liberal Democrat party conference, Julia Goldsworthy, a former special advisor to Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, said that without reform, local government could ‘fall over’ amid the impact of planned cuts.

‘The implications for the public sector are absolutely massive and the implications for local government – which is traditionally seen as a balancing item in a lot of approaches to spending rounds – is absolutely huge.’

She warned delegates that there would likely be a point where spending cuts would begin to represent a real threat of the failure of public services.

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Come clean on profits from parking, councils are told

Councils will be made to publish details of how much they raise in parking profits and what they use the cash for as part of a campaign to increase town hall transparency, ministers announced yesterday.

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Unison Rejects New Pay Offer for Local Government

A new pay offer made by the LGA to unions has been rejected by Unison, without the trade union putting it to a vote of members. Under the proposed deal most council employees would have received a 2.2% pay increase  and the lowest paid workers would have received a new minimum hourly rate of £7 per hour, rising further to £7.06 per hour in October 2015. In addition, non-consolidated lump sum payments of between £100 and £325 would be made at all pay grades. The LGA proposed that the pay agreement would run from 1 January 2015 until 1 March 2016, instead of being backdated to April.

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True toll of thousands of elderly and disabled patients locked up in care

At least seven times as many elderly and disabled people are being restrained or locked in at care homes and hospitals as previously thought, government figures show. Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show there were 21,600 deprivation of liberty applications to councils between April and June – 75 per cent higher than for the entire previous year. It comes following a Supreme Court ruling widening the criteria for assessments.

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Councils Struggle to Meet Timelines for DoLS Assessments

Councils are failing to meet deadlines for carrying out Deprivation of Liberty Safeguarding (DoLS) assessments. A ruling by the Supreme Court in March that disabled people have the same rights to "physical liberty" as everyone else, lowering the threshold of DoLS to cover disabled people living in care homes and hospitals. In 2013/2014, 174 councils in England and Wales received 8,602 requests to carry out assessments. Since April this year they've had 33,476 applications. Last year, just 2.2% of assessments breached legal timescales; so far this year it's 50.2%. The LGA says the demand for assessments is likely cost councils £88m and wants the government to provide additional funding. A government spokesman said: "The Health and Social Care information Centre is collecting data on this impact and we will carefully consider the results when they are published shortly."

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LGA creates local audit oversight company

he Public Sector Audit Appointments company, which will be chaired by former CIPFA chief executive Steve Freer, is set to take on a number of transitional responsibilities until at least 2017. These include the appointment of auditors to local government and parts of the NHS, the setting of audit fees, and managing the current outsourced audit contracts.

Under government plans following its decision to abolish the commission, once these deals expire after the 2016/17 financial year, county, district and London borough councils will be responsible for appointing their own auditors.

Announcing the creation of the firm, Peter Fleming, chair of the LGA’s improvement and innovation board, said the umbrella body was keen to maintain quality independent audit arrangements for local public services. 

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Archived Headlines

2014