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News Headlines

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Council Benefits and Tax Complaints on the Rise

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

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

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

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West Sussex First to Publish Real Time Performance Data

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

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

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

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Trade Union Manifesto Calls for ‘Fairer’ Council Funding

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

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

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

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Councils Spend More on Recycling than Building Homes

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

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

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

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

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

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Further Council Strikes 'Not Ruled Out' by Union

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

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

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

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Pension Reforms Won't Tackle Deficit Says Association

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

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

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

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Public Could See Value of Council Assets for First Time

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

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

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

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Row over Call to Give More Tax Powers to English Cities

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

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

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

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MPs Call For English Devolution

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

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

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

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

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First Local Government Bond Issue Set for Next Spring

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

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

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

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

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Give Councils Oversight of all Schools, Says LGA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miliband Pledges Billions for Councils

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

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

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LGA Pitches for Share of Fuel Duty Revenue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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War Launched on Council Waste

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

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

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

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Public ‘Not Noticing Impact of Council Cuts’

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

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

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Whitehall Grants Uncoordinated, Auditors Warn

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

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

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

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

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Brighton and Hove Plans 5.9% Council Tax Hike for 2015

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

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

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

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Local Government Finance: CIPFA Speech

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

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Council Finance Broken, Local Government Chief Says

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

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New Fund to Help Councils Fight Fraud

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

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

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

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

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Heseltine Dismisses LEPs Concerns

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

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

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

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MPs Support Complete Reform of Business Rates System

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

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

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

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Labour Pledges to Cut Business Rates

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

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

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

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LGA Reveals Extent of Council Funding ‘Black Hole’

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

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

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

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Councils to be forced to empty bins every week

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

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Cambridge Tops Business Growth League Table

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

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

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

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

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Local Services Support Grant: 2014-15 Allocations

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

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Double Yellow Line ‘Grace Period’ Plans ‘Dropped’

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

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LGA and CIPFA Challenge Council Liability Figures

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

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

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

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Councils Considering Selling Off Local Parks, Report Finds

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

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

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

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Councils Say Social Value Act is Improving Service Delivery

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

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

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Councils' Liabilities Soar to £180bn claims New Report

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

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

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

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Local Roads Given ‘At Risk’ Assessment in Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Betts Calls for Consistent Measure of Council Cuts

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

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

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

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Stop Inventing Council Spending Stats, Government Told

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

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

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

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Councils Failing to Allocate Welfare Support Funds

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

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

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

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Pay Living Wage to One Million More Workers, Commission Says

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

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

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Coalition Faces Huge Strike as Biggest Unions Ballot Council Workers

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

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

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

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

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Budget Devolution Key to Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’

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

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

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

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

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Watchdogs Consult on Integrated Child Protection Inspections

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

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

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

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Council Staff Vote for Strike Action

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

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

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National Union of Teachers' Strike Set for 10 July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Councils Promise to Fill 3 Million Pot Holes

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

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

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

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Audit Commission Highlights ‘Inaccurate’ Grant Claims

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

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

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

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Pickles Attacks ‘Stalinist’ Media Guidance for Councils

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

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

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

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Labour Reveals Plans to Devolve Welfare and Housing Powers

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

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

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

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Public Sector Says Staff are Biggest Data Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Protection Call for Children's Centres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Commission Calls for Greater Fairness in Spending Decisions

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

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

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Shared Services Drive from East England Councils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Auditors Criticise Management of Local PFI Waste Schemes

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

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

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

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Public Concerned Outsourcing Providers are ‘Cutting Corners’

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

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

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Single Local Government Website ‘Ill-Conceived’

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

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

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Councils Call for Powers over Troubled Schools

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

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

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

But the government said checks already existed outside council control.

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Sixth-Form Colleges Face Closure Because of Deep Budget Cuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Councils Charging Terminally Ill for Personal Care, Says Charity

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

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

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Devon County Council Appoints Custodian for £3bn Pension Fund

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

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

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

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Technology Gap Losing Billions in Potential Savings, Study Claims

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

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

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

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Lottery to Match EU Regeneration Funding

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

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

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

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Devon Leaders Call on Pickles to Reverse Spending Cuts

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

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

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

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Union Accuses Government of Shedding 'Crocodile Tears'

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

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

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

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Pupil Premium Funds Filling Budget Holes, Teachers Report

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

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

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

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Call for ‘New Localism’ from Education Charity

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

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

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

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New Money for Councils to Support Families with SEND

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

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

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Council Leaders Braced for Service Failure as Cuts Bite

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

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

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

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Audit Commission Finds £229m Lost to Fraud

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

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

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Councillors Say Transparency is Key to Effective Governance

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

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

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£65m Boost for Homelessness Initiatives

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

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

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Council Pay Dispute Could See 2m People Strike

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

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

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Poll Indicates Public Sector Jobs Creation

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

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

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Charities Criticise Care Act

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

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

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DoH Consults on Implementation of Care Reforms

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

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

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

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Teachers Back Performance-Related Pay, Sutton Trust Poll Finds

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

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

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NAO: ‘Unpredictable’ Road Funding Could Damage Public Value

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

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

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Society Denies Councils are 'Wasting Millions'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Council Chiefs Defend Top Salaries

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

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

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

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Councils Smash ICT Savings Targets

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

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

 

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Better Care Plans Under 'Intensive' Scrutiny

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

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

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

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Queen’s Speech: Public Sector Pay-Offs Limited

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

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

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

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Public Service Integration ‘Needs Single Ombudsman’

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

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

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European Commission Urges UK to Tax Expensive Homes More

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

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

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

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

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

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Better Care Fund 'Needs Long-Term Clarity'

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

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

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

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

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Councils 'Wasting Millions' Ignoring Government IT Cloud

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

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

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

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Poll Reveals Biggest Challenges to Social Care Sector

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

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

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

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1,500,000 Public Sector Workers Prepare to Strike

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

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

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Rehired Public Workers will have to Hand Back Redundancy Cash

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

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

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

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Independent Commission on Local Government Finance Launched

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

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

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Pickles Tipped to Move in Cabinet Reshuffle

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

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

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Town Halls Face Credit Test to Borrow from Bonds Agency

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

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

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

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Ombudsman Reports 14% Increase in Care Complaints

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

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

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

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Council Tax Arrears ‘Now Top Debt Complaint’

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

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

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

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Pay Falls for Public Sector Staff

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

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

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

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£23m Funding Boost for Enterprise Zones

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Labour Pledges Longer-Term ‘Certainty’ for Council Funding

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

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

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Council Satisfaction Ratings Remain Stable, LGA Poll Finds

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

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

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Long-Term Stability ‘Crucial to LGPS Reforms’

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

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

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

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Council Workers in Fair Pay Protest

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

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

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Councils 'Firefighting' Way Through Tough Times, Says Report

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

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

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

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Youth Service Cuts Warning

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

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

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Council Staff Could Strike 10 July, Warns GMB

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

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

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Schoolkids Lives at Risk for £3,000

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

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


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


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Privatise Child Protection Services, Department for Education Proposes

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

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

 

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Free School Meals Policy is Underfunded, Say Headteachers

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

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

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Outsourcing in Local Government Increases by Nearly 60%

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

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

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

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Council Funding Cuts Damaging Relationships with Local Groups, Survey Suggests

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

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

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Millions in Local Economic Growth Funding not Being Used Warn MPs

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

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

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

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

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Baroness Calls for End to 'Toxic' Care Conditions

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

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

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

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Care Bill Becomes Care Act 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Better Care Fund Opportunity 'Could Be Missed'

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

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

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

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

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CIPFA Joins Drive to Boost Health and Social Care Integration

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

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

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Councillors Trusted More than MPs, Reveals Poll

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

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

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

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Few 'Will Hit Social Care Cost Cap'

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

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

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

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

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Public Service Cuts Deepen as Councils Near Financial Tipping Point

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

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

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

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Michael Gove and David Laws at War over Free Schools

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

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

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

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Ministers Reaffirm Commitment to Better Care Fund

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

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

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New Pension Care Fund Proposed

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

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

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

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Council Asset Programme Opens to New Applicants

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

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

Successful authorities will receive:

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

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Ministers Back CIVs to Save £660m Pension Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ministers Insist Better Care Fund is on Track

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

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

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

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

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Conservative Authorities Have the Highest Council Tax Rises

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

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

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LEPs Branded ‘Unaccountable’ by Council Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OECD Increases UK Growth Forecast

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

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

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School Rebuilding Programme: £2bn for Next Phase

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Government Backs LGPS Reforms but Rules Out Mergers

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

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

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

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Treasury Guidance to Help Councils Make Reform Case

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

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

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

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Report Calls for Council Tax to be Charged on Stalled Sites

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

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

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Union Urges Social Workers to Reject Outsourcing Proposals

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

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

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Pressure Grows on LGA to Engage in Pay Talks

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

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

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

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Service Integration Chief Pledges to Break Down Barriers

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

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

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

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Government Insists Troubled Families Plan is on Track

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

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

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

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

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Parliamentary Inquiry into Disabled Childcare Launched

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

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

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

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More Council Workers Balloted on Strike Action

Trade union Unite has joined Unison in balloting its local government members on taking strike action over pay.

Unite said it had rejected the 'insulting' 1% pay offer and will be balloting members on action in early June.

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One in Three Councils Switch off Street Lights to Save Money and Energy: Half Also Make Roads Darker by Dimming Bulbs

Two-thirds of councils have switched off street lights to slash costs, a survey by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) reveals today.

And nearly half of the town halls admit to hitting the dimmer switch to make streets darker.

But motoring groups say the big switch off is putting lives at risk by increasing the risk of fatal and serious accidents on the road.

The CPRE report ‘Shedding Light – a survey of local authority approaches to lighting in England’ reveals more than 9 out of ten councils say they have switched off the lights to save money or energy.

But fewer than half (43 per cent) have done as a measure to reduce ‘light pollution’, which the countryside campaigners support.

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Shared Services ‘Saved Councils £350m Last Year’

Council shared service initiatives saved more than £350m in the last year as more town halls agreed to work together in areas such as adult social care, school support and back-office functions, figures from the Local Government Association have indicated.

Publishing the latest figures on shared services, the umbrella group said the amount saved had increased by £83m in 2013/14 compared to the previous year. There were now 337 councils, or 96% of those in England, involved in 383 shared service arrangements with other authorities or public sector bodies, the LGA stated.

According to the figures published today, the greatest savings have been made through collaboration on environment, waste and transport services since 2012, where nearly £84.5m has been cut from costs. Shared back-office services have contributed more than £75m, while joint customer facing services has cut costs by over £72m.

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Cross-Government Property Sharing Scheme Extended

A Whitehall programme to help central and local government share offices and other property is to be extended to 15 new authorities across the country.

The One Public Estate programme, established last June to get central and local government to share buildings in 12 areas, is projected to have saved £21m in its first year. Sales of buildings that are now unoccupied following a rationalisation of the public sector estate could raise as much as £88m in capital receipts, according to figures published yesterday.

The scheme, which is funded by the Cabinet Office’s Government Property Unit and delivered by the Local Government Association, will now be expanded. Successful bidders will receive £40,000 in initial funding, as well as support from the GPU and LGA, to bring agencies together and agree reforms to make better use of the public sector estate.

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Unison to Ballot Local Government Members on Strike Action

Trade union Unison has announced that it is to ballot 600,000 council workers over strike action after members rejected a pay offer by the local government employers.

The union said that, following a consultative ballot, 70% of members had rejected the offer from the Local Government Association of a 1% pay increase for around 90% of staff, with higher increases for the lowest paid.

As a result, the union will now ballot members – covering roles such as teaching assistants, planners and social workers – over possible strike action.

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Councils Told to Make Pothole Promise in Return for Repair Cash

Councils will need to sign a pledge setting out how many potholes they will fix over the next year to qualify for money from a new Whitehall road-repair fund, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has announced.

McLoughlin today called on town halls to come up with ways of carrying out repairs quickly and effectively as he opened the bidding for cash from the £168m fund. Councils that show a track record of best practice or put forward proposals for innovative changes or solutions could be rewarded with a bigger slice of the available funding, he said.

Chancellor George Osborne announced in the Budget that an extra £200m would be made available to repair roads across the UK as part of a potholes challenge fund. Of this, £168m will be made available for councils in England to bid for, with the rest given to devolved authorities.

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Councils Could Take Legal Action over Axing of Fund

A number of councils are preparing to seek a judicial review of the Government’s decision to cut local welfare assistance funding in April 2015, it is believed.

The Local Government Association and several of its members have called on ministers to reverse the cut and some authorities could now take legal action.

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Councils Sit on £67m in Emergency Help for Poor

Record numbers of families have pleas for help rejected even though councils in England are failing to spend allocated cash.

A fledgling scheme to provide emergency help to the poorest in the country is in chaos, with £67m left unspent and record numbers of families being turned away.

Figures released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests indicate that by the end of January councils in England were sitting on £67m of the £136m that had been allocated to local welfare schemes. Half of local authorities had spent less than 40% of their funds.

An analysis by the Guardian shows that under the new local welfare assistance schemes, four in 10 applications for emergency funds are turned down, despite evidence that many applicants have been made penniless by benefits sanctions and delays in processing benefit claims. Under the previous system – the social fund – just two in 10 were. In some parts of the country, as few as one in 10 applicants obtain crisis help.

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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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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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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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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Northampton BC Under-Fire After Selling Egyptian Statue for £16m

Northampton Borough Council has been heavily criticised for selling an ancient Egyptian statue to fund local museum improvements.

The 4,000-year-old limestone statue of Sekhemka – gifted to a local museum in the nineteenth century - was yesterday sold at auction by Christie’s for £15,762,500.

The borough council will retain £8m from the sale, while Lord Northampton will receive a further £6m.

A last minute legal challenge from the Egyptian Government failed to halt or postpone the sale.

Egyptian Ambassador Ahsraf Elkholy branded the deal ‘an abuse to the Egyptian archaeology and the cultural property’.

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Health Minister Defends Better Care Fund Changes

Changes to the government’s flagship Better Care Fund, which could see funding diverted to hospitals, are needed to ensure the scheme is effective, health minister Dr Dan Poulter has said.

Speaking to Public Finance following a fringe meeting at the Local Government Association conference, Poulter said the decision to tie £1bn of the £2.6bn pooled BCF money to reducing hospital admissions would also help measure the impact of the scheme.

Under the changes, announced last week, Health and Wellbeing Boards – made up of councils and NHS commissioners – will set a local target for reducing the number of unplanned hospital admissions by at least 3.5%, or 185,500 nationwide.

As much as £1bn of pooled BCF money will then be allocated against this target. However, if this is not reached, the balance will be used to support NHS-commissioned services, as agreed by the Health and Wellbeing Boards.

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Pickles Plans to Let Councils Keep 90% of Business Rates

Speaking to the Local Government Association's conference yesterday, Pickles said localisation of 50% of business rates from last April had increased the financial freedom of local authorities.

‘As the public finances improve I want the local share of business rates to steadily rise,’ he told delegates, reiterating the pledge he made at last week’s CIPFA conference to increase the local share at the next Spending Review.

Asked yesterday how he would like to see the local share increase, Pickles highlighted that initial plans had envisioned only one-third being localised to town halls.

‘I started out at 33% and through a process of persuasion, blackmail and sheer nastiness got it up to 50%.

‘I would be very disappointed if we couldn’t by the year 2020, have got it up to higher 80% or lower 90% as a percentage. That I think would give you an enormous degree of flexibility.’

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Tax on Second Homes Would Need ‘Stasi-Like Police’

Nick Clegg's plans to impose fresh taxes on second home owners would require a Stasi-like police force monitoring people's homes, Eric Pickles has said. The Local Government Secretary said in his speech to LGA Annual Conference yesterday that plans being considered by the Liberal Democrats to increase council taxes on holiday homes were “virtually unenforceable”.

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