NALC Chief Executives Bulletin

Meeting with the local government minister

Funding was top of the agenda for the meeting our chairman, Cllr Sue Baxter, and I had with the local government minister, Rishi Sunak MP, on 20 March. Here are a few key points.

  • Sue highlighted last week’s National Assembly motion and expressed our strong concern about local (parish and town) councils not being eligible to apply for certain government grants. The minister acknowledged our frustration and agreed to raise this with the high streets minister Jake Berry MP. We will also be making direct representations to him.
  • He undertook to raise directly, support for disabled people to stand for election through the EnAble Fund agreeing this should not be limited to principal authorities.
  • The exemption of public conveniences from business rates was still very much on the agenda and awaiting parliamentary time.
  • He agreed it would be important for the local council sector to contribute to the Comprehensive Spending Review, the development of the communities framework and the memorandum of understanding with the Local Government Association and he offered to assist with representations.
  • We will be writing to the minister and engaging with officials to follow-up the meeting, including setting out a range of other issues we want to see progress on, including parish polls reform and community governance review guidance.


BHIB Councils Insurance new website

I wanted to let you know that our partner, BHIB Councils Insurance, has launched a brilliant new website which will see a brand-new customer journey from beginning to end and has been designed with you in mind! The goal of the newly designed website is to create a user-friendly browsing experience for trusted and valued customers. The company has also recently created and updated a range of new and useful resources while improving the functionality of the website. What’s changed on the website includes one place for all your resources, access to policyholder exclusive tools such as a Risk Management Portal and a Risk Assessment Toolkit, and charity insurance and other business insurances. Please check it out and with the renewal period fast-approaching, don’t hesitate to get in touch with BHIB Councils Insurance to discuss your local council or county association requirements.

Updated Annual Governance and Accountability Return (AGAR)

The updated 2018/19 AGAR has been sent to external audit firms by Smaller Authorities Audit Appointments (SAAA). These are likely to be issued to local councils by their auditors from 25 March, so keep an eye out! A number of improvements have been made including a separate form for parish meetings, updated flowcharts, and a detailed and a new briefer Step by Step at a glance guide with key dates – these are available on the SAAA website in the guidance section. Last year saw a significant change from the old regime which by and large was successfully introduced and embraced by the sector. Inevitably, there were some teething problems which hopefully we can iron out this year. But here are two lessons: firstly, please read the instructions and guidance provided by your auditors and in the AGAR before attempting to complete the appropriate form; secondly, completed forms must be returned to the auditor by the statutory deadline of 30 June, either by email or post, but not both.

LGRC/NALC EXPO

A quick reminder there’s just a few days left before the early-bird offer for tickets to the LGRC/NALC EXPO on 21 June expires! This innovative and unique event provides an opportunity for clerks and councillors to see the complete range of products and services they might need, all in one place. There will be a rolling programme of presentations and demonstrations throughout the day, plus presentations, static displays and ‘surgeries’ that will cover a wide range of currently important topics relating to our theme of ‘modern local councils’. Find out more and book your place here – I look forward to seeing you there!

Job vacancies

Two previous winners of the Council of the Year in the NALC Star Councils Awards are on the search for new chief officers. Oswestry Town Council in Shropshire is recruiting a new town clerk, and Halewood Town Council in Merseyside is seeking a new town manager. Both are brilliant opportunities to help lead highly recognised councils in the sector. If you want to advertise your jobs with us, just email: nalc@nalc.gov.uk

National Assembly presentations and draft minutes

Last week’s National Assembly included presentations from Cllr Peter Davey from Essex Association of Local Councils and Cllr Terry Oliver from West Sussex Association of Local Councils (not East Sussex as reported in last Friday’s bulletin) on health and well-being. Both presentations and the draft minutes are now available in the members’ area of the NALC website (login required).

Other meetings and events

  • On 20 March we welcomed colleagues from the Kent Association of Local Councils to the NALC offices for our latest induction day. These days are run to enable new staff at county associations, councillors on committees and new member councils to meet our officers and put names to faces, as well as finding out more about our work. Our next induction days will be held on 16 July and 17 October. Please contact: Farhana.miah@nalc.gov.uk for more information and to book a place.
  • Our head of policy and communications, Justin Griggs, was in Birmingham on 20 March at the city council’s working group which is taking forward its white paper commitment to neighbourhoods and policies to improve neighbourhood working, and help those areas that are interested to create new neighbourhood organisations or a parish council.
  • That same day Justin also had a very positive meeting with colleagues from Blachere UK, and I’m really pleased to announce they have agreed to continue our longstanding partnership for another year which will benefit NALC, county associations and local councils.
  • Yesterday I was thrilled to take part in a meeting of the Federation of East Midlands Association of Local Councils by videoconference. As part of our commitment to more modern and different ways of working, we have installed a video camera in our boardroom at the NALC office and are trialling the use of Zoom software, with yesterday being its first use. Issues covered included our meeting with Mr Sunak, membership services, LGRC/NALC EXPO and councillor training.
  • Ahead of the meeting of our Management Board on 2 April, the agenda and supporting papers are now available in the members’ area of the NALC website(login required).


And finally...

Good luck and thank you to all local councils getting involved in The Great British Spring Clean which starts today, running until 23 April. Improving the environment on our doorsteps is I know of huge importance to our local councils, which is why I’m pleased to support this campaign and would urge you to consider taking part, in whatever way you can. More information is on the Keep Britain Tidy website. And, if you are taking part and use social media, do tweet using #GBSpringClean and tag @nalc.

 

 

 Elections campaign

 Don't forget to look at our elections webpage for a range of resources, including our updated version of All About Local Councils and our editable posters and press releases. And do drop us a line at policycomms@nalc.gov.uk or tag @nalc on Twitter to tell us what you're doing so we can share more widely.

Tree Charter
 
Our new video this week gives you an insight into how you can get involved with the Tree Charter. I’m really keen for as many local councils as possible to get involved, which you can do in a number of easy ways such as signing the charter to show your support, join the movement and become a charter branch, and celebrate trees and woodlands on Tree Charter Day. If you would like to find out more please visit our website or email NALC at policycomms@nalc.gov.uk.

Improvement and Development Board

The Improvement and Development Board met on Monday at the Local Government Association (LGA), here are a few key points:

  • the board agreed a proposal to take forward a local councils segmentation project to develop quantitive data to inform improvement and development policy, targeting and activity
  • discussions on the Committee on Standards in Public Life report on local government ethical standards, with MHCLG officials agreeing to find out the timeline for the government’s response and LGA confirming at that stage they would consider the recommendation to develop a single code of conduct
  • the board developed a range of ideas to inform discussions with MHCLG and LGA over their Memorandum of Understanding and government investment to support improvement in local government; suggestions included local government reorganisation, raising awareness and profile, engaging at the strategic level, support for new county officers and training materials
  • good progress was being made on actions identified in the report from the External Verifier for the Certificate in Local Council Administration, in particular, service level agreements and quality assurance
  • it was also agreed to maintain the current democratic mandate criteria in the Local Council Award Scheme but consider this as part of a wider review in due course, and refer a training support proposal for online management and personal development to the County Officers Forum

Finance and Scrutiny Committee

Our Finance and Scrutiny Committee met this week to discuss considerations for future budgets and updates to risk management and General Data Protection matters. Councillors also received the 9 months accounts which showed a comfortable position ahead of budget, and which are expected to show a surplus through to the year-end.

Policy consultations

NALC is currently responding to consultations on affordable housing and freedom of information (please click here to access associated briefings – you will need to log into the members’ area of the NALC website first). Please send views on these consultations to chris.borg@nalc.gov.uk. Other consultations NALC recently responded to are on flood defences, Woodland protection, the communities framework and clean air strategy.

Communities Partnership Board

I met key government and community sector representatives at the Communities Partnership Board this week which is facilitated by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). It is clear that Brexit is a disruptive element in its work as other priorities take precedence. We have submitted evidence to inform the development of the new Communities Framework designed to put communities at the heart of MHCLG’s work, which is to be welcomed. Strengthening communities is seen as an important part of bringing the country together, hence as I’ve said before I think it’s really important we continue to demonstrate that local councils, with their democratic legitimacy and their loud voice on behalf of residents, are shaping places and delivering services to support this.

Joint Panel on Accountability and Governance (JPAG)

The JPAG met this week and agreed on some small changes to The Practitioners’ Guide which is issued annually to support the preparation by smaller authorities in England of statutory annual accounting and governance statements found in the Annual Governance and Accountability Return. The new edition for 2019 was agreed for publication in April and applies in respect of financial years commencing on or after 1 April 2018.

Funding for village halls

The Autumn Budget announced up to £8 million to help with the cost of repairs and alterations to village halls, Miners’ Welfare facilities and Armed Forces organisations’ facilities. Funding of £3m has been allocated to ACRE for distribution to village halls. For more detail of how the fund will work and whether your hall may be eligible do contact your local ACRE Network member.

And finally...

Two staffing changes I wanted to let you know about. Please welcome Olivia Kane who has recently joined NALC in the role of receptionist and administrator, replacing Farhana Miah is now an executive officer. And unfortunately, it’s goodbye to Ben Murray, policy and projects officer, who joins LGA next week as a digital, campaigns and marketing officer - good luck and all the best Ben!


 

 

Previous Bulletin

NALC Elections Campaign

This week we launched a new promotional video as part of our #MakeAChange elections campaign to encourage more people to stand for election as local councillors in the forthcoming elections in May 2019. The new video aims to help people looking to stand for election to understand the steps they will have to take to become a councillor. Watch our six steps to becoming a local councillor video

Communities Framework

  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have asked NALC, as a member of the Communities Partnership Board, for input to the development of a new Communities Framework. The framework will describe the importance of strong communities, set out the department's vision for supporting the development of these alongside the vital work of other groups, organisations and sectors, and explain and take forward how they are embedding this approach across the work of the department.
  • They are focusing for now on three questions – what do communities want: to do more of, or have more control over, in their local areas; in terms of inclusive spaces (parks, community centres, shared amenities) in their local areas; national and local government to do more, or less of, to support communities who want more control over issues affecting their local areas. Let us know what you think to policycomms@nalc.gov.uk or fill in the online survey. Thank you!

Policy consultations
 
Staying on the subject of inputting to government policy-making, we’d welcome your views on the Clean Air Strategy consultation and on proposals for fighting to flood by considering NALC's policy consultation briefings in the members' area of the NALC website (login required).

NALC Open Days
 
A reminder that this year's open days at the NALC office are on 20 March, 16 July and 17 October 2019. These provide an opportunity for members of the National Assembly and committees to find out more about our work and meet our staff. To find out more or to register a place, please email NALC at NALCcommittees@nalc.gov.uk

County Officers Forum
 
The County Officers Forum, which brings together county association officers to discuss common issues and share good practice, met on 6 February at CCLA in London. NALC was represented by Justin Griggs, head of policy and communications and Gary Barker, solicitor. The meeting considered a number of subjects including digital mapping, ethical standards, a project to improve guidance on law and procedure, information management systems, skills and interests register, and the Local Council Award Scheme.

And finally...

I wanted to share a comment from an ex-colleague of mine, who is now working in a shadow unitary authority being created as a result of local government reorganisation: “You are greatly blessed at NALC having such a strong network of county associations”, and we are!


Final local government finance settlement
 
The secretary of state for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire MP, published the final local government finance settlement 2019/20 this week, and as expected council tax referendum principles have not been extended to local (parish and town) councils. To support our ongoing work on this issue, can I still ask you to keep us informed of any significant precept increases – please email policycomms@nalc.gov.uk, thank you! The government have also allocated £56.5m to help principal authorities prepare for Brexit, and I would encourage you to liaise with them about this new funding and so they are aware of any particular issues you may be facing.

NALC Management Board

 
NALCs Management Board, which brings together 11 councillors elected from the National Assembly to oversee our work, met on Tuesday 29 January, here’s a brief summary: 

  • The board noted we are set to achieve a surplus against the budget this year, had applied for cyber essentials accreditation to demonstrate we handled data securely we have, and an update on proposals regarding the annual conference
  • A report on performance over the last two months was considered, with councillors noting the legal team had dealt with 127 written queries and 34 telephone queries over the last quarter
  • The publication of our new range of materials to encourage more people to stand for election in May’s local elections was welcomed
  • Welcomed progress on the development of our new strategic plan, agreeing four new strategy aims to take forward our new vision for the sector and NALC; strong national and county voices promoting the sector, promoting and creating local councils in England, supporting councils and councillors, effective national and county associations working together

Committee on Standards in Public Life report
 
Along with our chairman Cllr Sue Baxter and other colleagues, I attended the launch in Parliament this week of the Committee on Standards in Public Life report on local government ethical standards, which I’m pleased backs NALC’s longstanding calls for reforms to the current regime including the re-introduction of sanctions. However, I’m disappointed by the report’s failure to recommend and promote more councillor training and development, this is an issue Sue raised at the event with Committee’s chairman and other members, and we will be taking this up in further dialogue and engagement with the Committee and the government over the report’s recommendations. You can read more in our news story and full media release.
 
NALC/LGRC Local Council Expo 2019
 
A date for your diary as I’m really pleased to announce we will be partnering with Local Government Resource Centre Associates to stage the 2019 Local Council Expo on 21 June at Chateau Impney, Droitwich in Worcestershire. This follows the highly successful event held in 2016 at the same venue and will be by far the largest exhibition of products and services available to local councils together with demonstrations of the latest technology. With all-day entry, there will also be an opportunity to speak in-depth to a range of experts and a programme of demonstrations, presentations and discussions throughout the day on practical topics of specific interest to modern local councils. More details on how you can book your place next week, but in the meantime do put this innovative event on your calendar!

Staffing changes
 
Firstly, I would like to let you know that we have appointed Charlotte Eisenhart as our new head of member services. She is currently head of engagement at the Royal Society of Arts, but as many of you know, she has previously worked for NALC and the Local Government Association. This post was created as a result of our recent strategic review and I see it as crucial to continuing our closer work together, at all levels. I know Charlotte will be keen to engage widely when she starts in May.

I am also pleased to announce that Farhana Miah has moved from her role as the receptionist to acting executive officer on an initial six-month basis, taking over responsibility for supporting NALC’s committees as well as continuing to provide assistance with NALC conferences, LCR and helping the smooth running of the office.

Out and abouts

  • Sue and I met with colleagues from the Society of Local Council Clerks to consider joint work to update the governance toolkit and other template policies
  • Colleagues from the policy and communications were at the launch of Youth Politics UK London to develop links with a range of national youth organisations to raise awareness and get more young people involved in the sector
  • Our head of policy and communications, Justin Griggs, attended the annual parliamentary reception of the Royal Town Planning Institute, where James Brokenshire MP spoke about the important rol ofe planning and design in building strong communities
  • Yesterday the Essex Association of Local Councils hosted a visit by our head of finance and administration, Steve Walker

And finally...

NALC's Spring Conference is less that two weeks away. And with that, we're running a super sale saving you 20% off your tickets. The deal ends on 7 February, so register your place today to make the most of the discount.