NALC Chief executive's bulletin 17/05/19
Revised precepts data
Very welcome news this week that the average Band D precept increase in 2019/20 is actually 4.9% and not 5.7% as published in March! The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have now published updated council tax statistics which includes data on every local precepting body in England, and which has been revised due to some incorrect data from billing authorities. In short, this means the average increase in our small share of council tax remained the same as last year, clearly showing our councils have continued to invest in communities while demonstrating the “restraint” expected by ministers. We’re crunching the numbers further and this analysis will be available next week.
Improvement and Development Board
MHCLG kindly hosted the Improvement and Development Board on 14 May 2019 for a workshop (expertly facilitated by its independent chairman Jonathan Flowers) which considered the wider context local councils are operating in, reflected on how the Board works together, discussed existing initiatives, and reviewed the Board’s ambitions and aims.
Localis report on local leadership
Three stand out issues for me from the launch of the think tank Localis report Hitting Rest – a case for local leadership on 15 May, attended by our head of policy and communications, Justin Griggs, and co-champion of the Super Councils Network, Cllr Sandie Webb (re-elected this week as leader of Chippenham Town Council, so huge congratulations). The first was launch event panellist Sir Simon Jenkins consistent reference to local (parish and town)councils and call for them to have more power (amen to that!); second was we had persuaded Localis to interview two council leaders as part of their research, which rightly points out ‘parish councils are often overlooked in considerations of local government structures’, and thirdly an interesting ‘roadmap’ to decentralisation. You can read the full report here and catch up on all the conversation from the launch event on the Twitter hashtag #HittingReset.
Conference speakers update
I’m delighted to confirm a number of speakers for this year’s annual conference (have you booked your place yet?). Rural Coalition chair and former LCR cover star, Margaret Clark, and Campaign for Rural England chief executive, Crispin Truman, will take part in a rural issues workshop; Salisbury City Council will share their expertise on communications and resident engagement, Co-operative Councils Network will provide insight and tips on how to invest-to-save, and our partners and conference sponsor BHIB return for what I’m sure will be another packed session on the hot topic of risk. We’ll keep you updated over the coming weeks as more exciting speakers are confirmed.
The Big Lunch
The Big Lunch sees millions of people getting together to share food, have fun and get to know each other better and this year takes place over the weekend of 1 and 2 June. It’s also a practical initiative to help tackle loneliness – 80% of participants last year felt less lonely and 4.5 million new friendships were made. Hence I’m really keen for local councils to consider getting involved by organising your own Big Lunch and encouraging and supporting other Big Lunch organisers locally. For more information about the Big Lunch and handy tips on how your council can get involved, check out The Big Lunch For Councils webpage here.
Good news as the neighbourhood planning support programme is now live and provides welcome funding and/or technical support, so please do make sure you make use of these resources which have continued to lobby for. The May edition of MHCLG’s Neighbourhood Planning Newsletter includes some really powerful statistics, such as the 750th successful referendum has now taken place, 800,000 votes have been cast in total, 51% of Local Planning Authorities have at least one plan, and 14 million people live in an area with a neighbourhood plan. The latest update also includes provision for employment sites, broadband, housing, community facilities, rural economic development and high street regeneration – and showcases the work of Harpenden Town Council who took less than a year to submit their plan!
Plunkett Foundation national advisory group
Our policy and development manager, Chris Borg, attended a meeting of the Plunkett Foundation’s national advisory group in Birmingham on 15 May 2019. The group acts as the steering board for the Plunkett Foundation/Esmee Fairbairn rural community business programme. Key issues covered included a review of stakeholder experiences on the programme so far and Plunkett’s evaluation of the programme and legacy evidence by December 2019. We will continue to work very closely with the Plunkett Foundation to the end of 2019 and beyond to encourage as many local councils as possible to help set up and sustain rural community businesses, particularly in deprived and sparsely populated areas of the countryside.
You may have spotted the big Northamptonshire news this week: they are going unitary from 1 April 2021. One of the consequences is likely to be the full parish of the county, whereas currently, only two-thirds of residents live in parished areas. There will likely be four new town councils – in Northampton, Wellingborough, Kettering and Corby – and six or seven large parish councils in Northampton. There are only 686 days to go and Danny Moody and his colleagues are looking forward to a challenging few months!
National Audit Office consultation response
NALC has responded to a National Audit Office consultation (read more in our news story here) calling for a proportionate, realistic and light touch approach to audit and to minimise the costs of investigations which can be prohibitive. For example this year one small parish council with the precept of £12,000 was subject to in excess of a hundred separate objections raised by various local electors working in unison, which then had to be reviewed by the auditor. The cost to the council of the auditor reviewing all the objections and any further investigations is likely to be as much as the annual precept. We are also taking this issue up with MHCLG.
I’m really pleased to let you know Linda Hammond has joined NALC as policy and projects intern in the member services team – welcome Linda!