Learning and looking ahead

The LGA’s annual conference is a chance to reflect on recent experiences and discuss what lies ahead for local government.

I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to welcoming many of you to the LGA Annual Conference and Exhibition in Harrogate next week (28-30 June).

After two brilliant ‘virtual’ annual conferences in 2020 and 2021, we will be meeting in person for the first time since Bournemouth in July 2019.

So much has happened since then – not least the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced us to meet virtually for so long.

While councils were heroic in the support they provided to local communities and the vaccination programme, the pandemic has had an enormous and continuing impact on local services, and on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our residents.

This year, councils have also stepped up to provide support for those fleeing the war in Ukraine, and for those on the lowest incomes struggling most with the rising cost of living.

We know that both these issues continue to impact councils significantly, with certain services facing more acute pressures. Rising energy prices and high inflation rates, meanwhile, are hitting councils’ finances directly – as well as those of their residents.

For example, the LGA and a coalition of leading bodies in the physical activity sector, including the District Councils’ Network and ukactive, have written to the Government calling for urgent support to save leisure facilities from going under as they face a rise in energy costs of up to 150 per cent on last year.

A ukactive survey of public leisure operators found up to 79 per cent of public leisure facilities say they are ‘likely’ or ‘extremely likely’ to cease operations within the next six months unless support is forthcoming.

Meanwhile, more than 80 per cent of library leaders expect to see an increase in people using libraries to keep warm next winter, with 56 per cent already hosting food, clothing or hygiene banks/donation points and 47 per cent providing help using price-comparison websites, according to a Libraries Connected briefing note.

The LGA will have more to say about the funding gap facing local government and the cost-of-living crisis during conference week.

“Library leaders expect to see an increase in people using libraries to keep warm”

In late May, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a UK-wide package of support to help with the cost of living, which will ease the pressure on household budgets this year by providing extra support to mitigate the impact of rising energy bills and funding for those on the lowest incomes.

It is good that this support is going through the mainstream benefits system, and that the Government has committed to uprating benefits next year in line with inflation. This allows councils to target their support towards those facing the greatest need.

It is also helpful that the council-administered Household Support Fund in England has been increased and extended to the end of the current financial year.

But many of our residents remain financially insecure, with uncertain and unpredictable earnings and outgoings, and little or no savings to tide them over.

They remain vulnerable to continuing cost-of-living pressures and future economic shocks, whether arising from the war in Ukraine, the growing climate crisis or other unpredictable national and international events. We therefore need to find a longer-term solution to helping vulnerable households, and think honestly, openly and collaboratively about how best to ensure that our communities are more financially and socially resilient in the future.

Consequently, the LGA continues to emphasise the importance of local flexibility and leadership in levelling up, enabling councils to work with their partners and communities to deliver strong, inclusive and resilient local economies and reduce disparities in opportunities and outcomes.

Devolving greater responsibility and spending power to local councils to enable them to maximise social and economic capital in their places will enable them to ensure that communities are more inclusive and resilient.

After all, councils are uniquely well placed to lead local partnerships that bring together key priorities, including housing affordability, food sustainability, energy efficiency and access to training and skills development, alongside financial support and inclusion.

There isn’t one approach to solving the cost-of-living crisis – we need a collective response to ensure that our most vulnerable residents do not have to choose between heating and eating.

Councils can play a key role, but they need support from government and partners to do this. I, for one, will be listening closely to what our ministerial and opposition speakers (see panel, below) have to say about this at annual conference.

Beyond the cost of living, conference will, as ever, be covering a wide range of issues affecting local government. These include: support for Ukrainian families; levelling up; sustainable homes; climate change; adult social care reform and assurance; corporate parenting; preventing homelessness; civility in public life; the future of our high streets; heritage and the visitor economy; local government finance; and much, much more.

I hope you enjoy catching up with colleagues in Harrogate, and find something to inform and inspire your amazing work in support of our local communities.

See below for our great programme of speakers and please visit www.local.gov.uk/conference to join us at the local government event of the year. If you can’t make it, you can follow conference on social media at #LGAConf22.

LGA annual conference

Keynote speakers include:

Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
Lisa Nandy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government
Sir Ed Davey MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Baroness Lola Young OBE, Crossbench peer
Kriss Akabusi MBE, Olympian and businessman
Lord Victor Adebowale CBE, Chairman, NHS Confederation
Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner
Nadhim Zahawi MP, Secretary of State for Education
Kemi Badenoch MP, Minister for Levelling Up
Lord Richard Harrington, Refugees Minister
Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, National Police and Crime Commissioner Lead for Violence Against Women and Girls
Gemma Tetlow, Chief Economist, Institute for Government
Karl Lokko, Chairman of Black Seed
Professor Tony Travers, Visiting Professor/Director, LSE Department of Government
Polly Billington, Chief Executive, UK100
Jackie Weaver, Chief Officer/Ambassador, Cheshire Association of Local Councils/Compassion in Politics
Ben Page, Chief Executive Officer, Ipsos
Matt Winfield, England Director, Sustrans
Mary Cridge, Interim Director of Adult Social Care, Care Quality Commission
Andrew Grinnell, Co-Director, Poverty Truth Network
Philippa Baker, Deputy Director, NHS Legislation Programme, Department of Health and Social Care
Simon Thompson, Principal Adviser, Natural England
Dr Wei Yang, Immediate Past President, Royal Town Planning Institute
Karen Creavin, Chief Executive, Active Wellbeing Society
Selaine Saxby MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Broadband and Digital Communication
Rachael Bice, Chief Executive Officer, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust
Peter Baker, Chief Inspector of Buildings, Health and Safety Executive
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone
Nick Lowles, Chief Executive, HOPE Not Hate
Amy Meek, Co-Founder, Kids Against Plastic
Ella Meek, Co-Founder, Kids Against Plastic

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