QUEEN’S SPEECH: COUNCILS RESPOND TO NATIONAL CITIZEN SERVICE BILL
Responding to the National Citizen Service Bill announced in today’s Queen’s Speech, which includes plans to dramatically expand the National Citizen Service, Cllr Gerald Vernon Jackson, LGA Liberal Democrat Group leader said:
“The Government is proposing to allocate £1.1 billion in funding for it over the course of this Parliament, and with many local services under pressure since 2010 following substantial cuts to local government funding, it is vital that money to run the NCS should not be at the expense of restoring and supporting local services for young people. Councils – who know their communities best – must be able to provide services tailored to local needs.
“If local authorities are to actively promote the NCS, it is essential that there is a reciprocal duty on providers to engage with local authorities, including a duty to share relevant data, to make sure that promotion is effectively targeted to meet local needs.”
QUEEN’S SPEECH: LGA RESPONDS TO NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING AND INFRASTRUCTURE BILL
Responding to the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill announced in today’s Queen’s Speech, Cllr Gerald Vernon Jackson said:
“The planning system is not a barrier to housebuilding. Councils approve almost nine out of 10 planning applications and the number of homes being granted planning permission by local authorities during 2015 was 253,000, the highest level since 2007. There is support for the intention to improve the process for reviewing and updating neighbourhood plans but are clear that any additional requirements on councils should be fully funded.
“There is little evidence to suggest development is being delayed by planning conditions. Planning conditions provide a vital role, enabling planning permissions to go ahead which would otherwise be refused or delayed while the details are worked out. They can also save developers time and money as they do not need to invest in detailed submissions until the principle of the development is granted.
“We support measures to free up new land for homes. Reforms to Compulsory Purchase Orders could pave the way for councils to capture the value from increased land prices to invest in the vital infrastructure that boosts housebuilding and creates places that people want to live.”
QUEEN’S SPEECH: COUNCILS RESPOND TO DIGITAL ECONOMY BILL
Responding to the Digital Economy Bill announced in today’s Queen’s Speech, which includes plans for a broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO), Cllr Howard Sykes, LGA Lib Dem Group Whip, said:
“The creation of a broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) as a safety net for those residents and businesses with poor connectivity could help but only if properly enforced. Many people, including in rural areas, get very poor coverage at the moment”.
“The LGA is calling for the USO minimum download speed to be defined as a percentage of average national download speeds to ensure the new national minimum standard keeps pace with average broadband speeds across the country.
“This will mean that when the USO speed is up for review and national average download speeds have risen, the minimum standard will also increase.
“Extending excellent mobile coverage across the country is also key to ensuring all residents have access to 21st century digital connectivity, especially in some of the country’s most rural areas.
“With commercial operators obliged to extend coverage across the country, it is important they work in partnership with councils, who maintain the best overview of local areas’ digital connectivity needs, to find the best locations for new phone masts and ensure communities are properly consulted on developments. Mobile network operators should not be able to build huge masts in places without local residents and councils having their say.
“The reform of the Electronic Communications Code must not discourage communication network providers from liaising with councils. It will also be important for the mobile sector to adhere to its own Code of Best Practice on Mobile Network Development in England, especially liaising with councils and the community, before installing or upgrading phone masts.”
QUEEN’S SPEECH: COUNCILS RESPOND TO POLICING AND CRIME BILL
Responding to the Policing and Crime Bill, which requires emergency services to collaborate and makes provision for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to manage fire and rescue services in their areas, Cllr Jeremy Hilton, Lib Dem Chair of the Local Government Association’s Fire Services Management Committee, which represents 48 fire and rescue authorities in England and Wales, said:
“Fire and rescue authorities have been collaborating with other emergency services for a long time and further progress is being made with ongoing partnership work. On governance, councillors already do a superb job in running fire and rescue authorities. The LGA believes it should stay that way.
“PCCs should only run fire and rescue services where there is a robust business case setting out the advantages of doing so, which is supported by all sides and has the support of local communities.
“PCC take-overs could involve a lengthy bureaucratic process – for example, through the need to alter governing boundaries – which do not deliver worthwhile improvements over what can be achieved through collaboration.”
QUEEN’S SPEECH: COUNCILS RESPOND TO SOFT DRINKS INDUSTRY LEVY
Responding to the Soft Drinks Industry Levy announced in today’s Queen’s Speech, the Local Government Association’s Lib Dem Community Wellbeing spokeswoman, Cllr Richard Kemp, said:
“Councils have long called for measures to be introduced to tackle sugar content in soft drinks, which can help the fight against child obesity.
“As well as being a key driver behind obesity, sugar is also a major cause of tooth decay, with a recent survey finding that a quarter of children starting school have rotting teeth.
“It’s time for the soft drinks industry to step up and take its share of responsibility for the child obesity crisis we face.”
QUEEN’S SPEECH: COUNCILS RESPOND TO BUS SERVICES BILL
Responding to the Bus Services Bill announced in today’s Queen’s Speech, which includes plans to allow combined authorities with directly-elected mayors to take on responsibility for local bus services and franchising options, Cllr Chris White, Deputy Leader of the LGA LIb Dem group, said:
“With government forecasts of an increase in traffic levels of up to 55 per cent by 2040, the ability for local areas to take responsibility for bus services through the option of franchising and greater access to buses data could help councils struggling to avoid gridlock on their roads and local people to access vital services.
“Franchising should be available to all local authorities who wish to improve bus services in towns, villages and rural areas that are poorly served at present. It should not depend on having a directly-elected mayor.
“To protect cherished bus services, which remain under threat as councils continue to receive less money from government to provide all services over the next few years, the option to franchise needs to go hand in hand with the devolution of bus subsidies. Handing councils control over the Bus Service Operators’ Grant – a fuel duty rebate paid directly to bus operators by the Government – would help them support vital routes and the roll-out of smart ticketing.
“Years of underfunding of the concessionary fares scheme – a statutory duty on councils to provide free off-peak travel for elderly and disabled residents – has forced councils to spend millions of pounds subsidising it. Government needs to fully fund this to protect the routes which act as a lifeline for vulnerable and non-driving residents to go shopping, pick up medication, attend doctor appointments or socialise with friends.
“Councils also need effective traffic management powers to enforce moving traffic offences – such as banned turns and blocking yellow box junctions – to help unblock congestion hotspots that delay buses and lengthen journey times.
“We will now seek to work with the Government on the detail of the Bill to ensure that the legislation is simple, streamlined and easy for councils to implement.”
QUEEN’S SPEECH: COUNCILS RESPOND TO CHILDREN AND SOCIAL WORK BILL
Responding to the Children and Social Work Bill announced in today’s Queen’s Speech, Cllr Liz Green, Lib Dem spokesperson on the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:
“Councils are committed to improving children and young people’s experience of the care system. Many of the provisions outlined in this Bill have the potential to support the good work already taking place in local authorities across the country, and could make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable children and young people.
“Adoption is not right for every child, but neither the local authority nor the court should shy away from making that decision when it is in the child’s best interests. Finding loving homes for children is one of the most important jobs that councils do, with local authorities at the heart of efforts to find permanent homes for some of our most vulnerable young people. The Government’s determination to drive longer term decision making through the court system is encouraging, as the recent decline in the number of children adopted from care will only be tackled through close working between social workers and the judiciary.
“However, we must take care that the ongoing focus on adoption does not distract from the importance of other types of long and short-term care for vulnerable children. Local and national government must continue to work towards improving the experience of all children in care – whether they are being looked after by friends or family, in foster care or a special guardianship arrangement, or in residential care.
“It is important to be clear that many children and young people have a very positive experience of the care system. Research shows that the love and support of foster families, kinship carers or residential care workers can help children in a range of ways, improving their progress in school and helping them to overcome some of the trauma they may have experienced earlier in their lives.
“There is room for improvement though. Proposals to provide clear, consistent support to young people leaving care until the age of 25 is supported by councils, but this must be fully funded.
“In addition, improving regulation of social workers will increase public confidence in the profession and a sense of pride in the many highly-talented social workers. However we need to ensure this is not overly bureaucratic and doesn’t deter new recruits or existing staff from remaining in social work. This is also an excellent opportunity to align the new system with DBS record checks so time is not wasted on repeating lengthy checks that can take months to complete.”
QUEEN’S SPEECH: COUNCILS RESPOND TO COUNTER-EXTREMISM BILL
Responding to the Counter-Extremism Bill announced in today’s Queen’s Speech, which includes plans to introduce extremism disruption orders to restrict those trying to radicalise young people, banning orders for extremist organisations which seek to undermine democracy or use hate speech in public places, and powers for councils to close down premises used to support extremism, Cllr Dorothy Thornhill, Deputy leader of the LGA Lib Dem Group said:
“Councils have built up considerable experience in dealing with extremism and the impact of extremist activity on their communities.
“Preventing people from being radicalised and engaging in extremist activity means understanding and building relations with communities, and a better understanding of the reasons why some people are vulnerable to radicalisation and what can be done to make them more resilient to extremist views and propaganda”.
QUEEN’S SPEECH: COUNCILS RESPOND TO EDUCATION FOR ALL BILL
Responding to the Education For All Bill announced in today’s Queen’s Speech, which includes plans to end the statutory role of councils in school improvement, and give the Secretary of State new powers to force all schools in a council area to become academies if the council is underperforming or unviable in its support for those schools, Cllr Ruth Dombey, Chair of the LGA Lib Dem Group said:
“We strongly believe that all schools should have the choice to stay with their council or convert to academy status, and remains opposed to any forced academisation. Hundreds of schools, often in disadvantaged areas, are being turned around thanks to the intervention of local councils, highlighting that they should be regarded as education improvement partners rather than as a barrier to change. Our recent analysis of the grades achieved by all schools under the more rigorous Ofsted inspection framework proved that 81 per cent of council-maintained schools are rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, compared to 73 per cent of academies and 79 per cent of free schools. Schools should not be forced down the academy route unless they make that decision themselves.
“Only a handful of Multi-Academy Trusts currently maintain more than 10 sponsored academies, compared to councils, which maintain large numbers of schools and have significant experience and expertise, so we will be keen to explore how councils will be considered ‘unviable’ to maintain schools. In addition, councils will continue working with all schools to deliver the education needed by individual communities, from making sure every child has a suitable school place, to protecting vulnerable children. Suggesting a council is ‘unviable’ ignores this crucial role that councils will continue to play in education.
“If the statutory role of councils in school improvement and holding them to account ends, parents will have to raise any problems with one of the eight remote Regional Schools Commissioners. We have serious concerns about the capacity and local knowledge of each individual Commissioner to effectively hold more than 2,500 schools to account, particularly when each RSC already has between 53 and 133 failing academies to turn around. The LGA is against the transfer of significant powers relating to education to unelected civil servants, and it is vital that local oversight of schools by democratically elected councils is maintained. Councils must be allowed to work with RSCs to drive up education standards in their areas.
“The LGA remains keen to work with the Department for Education to ensure that all partners are working together to deliver the excellent education that our children deserve, regardless of where they live or the structure of their school.”