The Government announced more than 30 bills as Parliament returned following December’s General Election.
Measures to deliver Brexit, protect tenants, improve building safety, increase funding for schools, reform business rates and find a long-term solution to social care were among the many proposals announced in the pre-Christmas Queen’s Speech.
By building new homes, creating jobs and school places, providing dignified care, and boosting economic growth, councils are a vital part of our democracy and the delivery of frontline services to communities.
It is positive therefore that the Government has listened to the LGA’s calls, as part of its #CouncilsCan campaign, for a new devolution settlement to empower councils to transform their local areas, and to see this Queen’s Speech make commitments on a variety of issues which are important to residents.
“Brexit must lead to further powers for local communities“
Delivering Brexit will occupy a lot of parliamentary time in January. The UK’s departure from the EU is an opportunity for government, the LGA and councils to work together to ensure that, through local government, communities have a greater say over their futures, new opportunities are identified to grow local economies, and the risks to local areas are managed carefully.
Brexit cannot mean leaving Brussels only to consolidate power in Whitehall, Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont. Instead, it must lead to further powers for local communities through local government. Devolution to local communities through councils should be at the heart of the Government’s thinking as it brings forward proposals that will shape the future of our constitution.
Building new homes and preventing the tragedy of homelessness will be another priority for the new Parliament. The Queen’s Speech included plans to abolish ‘no fault’ evictions, build at least a million more homes and end rough sleeping in five years. It is key that we build houses of all tenures to provide people with safe and secure homes, and councils will continue to play an important role in the nation’s new home building programme.
The Queen’s Speech also made important announcements in relation to NHS funding and social care. NHS funding will increase and we believe this will only be maximised if there is an equivalent investment in social care, public health and prevention services that improve people’s health, wellbeing and independence. It is also vital that there is cross- party agreement on the long-term future of social care.
Meanwhile, it was positive to see the Queen’s Speech commit to ensuring that all children have a high-quality education. The Government announced it will increase schools’ ‘high needs’ budgets, giving councils more certainty when it comes to supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). In the longer term, all schools should become more inclusive so that they can provide appropriate support to more SEND children.
Other proposals of interest to councils include a tough new building safety system enshrined in law, in response to the Grenfell Tower fire; a review of business rates; White Papers on planning and social housing; a national infrastructure strategy; the reintroduction of the Environment Bill; a Domestic Abuse Bill; and a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission.
⬤ An extra £7.1 billion for schools up to 2022/23.
⬤ An extra £780 million for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) next year.
⬤ Local authorities legally required to deliver minimum per pupil funding locally.
LGA view: “Local flexibility allowed under the existing ‘soft’ National Funding Formula plays an essential role in allowing councils to work with schools locally to make sure that available funding addresses local needs and priorities. This flexibility should remain.”
⬤ An additional £1 billion for adults’ and children’s social care in every year of this Parliament.
⬤ 2 per cent council tax precept to raise £500 million for adult social care in 2020-21.
⬤ Cross-party talks on long-term social care reforms.
LGA view: “Securing the sustainable, long-term future of adult social care and support is one of the major issues facing society. Proposals will need to be practical and workable so that adults of all ages are supported to live the lives they want to lead.”
⬤ Fundamental review of business rates.
⬤ Next business rates revaluation brought forward from 2022 to 2021.
⬤ Revaluations to happen every three, rather than five, years.
LGA view: “We are pleased that the next business rates revaluation will be brought forward and that future revaluations will be more frequent, but this must be introduced alongside measures to significantly reduce the backlog of appeals. We are concerned that reliefs lower the business rates tax base. Introduction of new reliefs is one of the issues to consider as part of the move to further business rates retention.”
⬤ Communities to have more control over how investment is spent locally.
LGA view: “The UK’s departure from the EU must lead to further powers for local communities through local government. It is essential that a bold English devolution settlement is delivered in this Parliament.”
⬤ Enhanced safety framework for high-rise residential buildings.
⬤ A stronger voice for residents.
LGA view: “Residents deserve to be safe in their homes, and reform of our failed building safety system is urgent. However, in designing the new regulatory framework, we must avoid creating a two-tier building safety system.”
Housing and planning
⬤ Abolish use of ‘no fault’ evictions.
⬤ Build at least a million more homes over this Parliament.
⬤ Renew the Affordable Homes Programme.
⬤ End rough sleeping in five years.
LGA view: “No fault evictions have been the major cause of homelessness and abolishing their use will be an important step. Councils want to encourage home ownership, but not at the expense of social housing and other affordable housing that meet local needs.”
⬤ A new Office for Environmental Protection.
⬤ More local powers to tackle air pollution.
⬤ New charges for specified single- use plastic items.
⬤ Ban on exports of polluting plastic waste to non-OECD countries.
LGA view: “We welcome the reintroduction of the Environment Bill. Many of our powers are decades old and need to be reformed to fit with modern sources of emissions. Additional resources will support councils to deal effectively with environmental protection.”
⬤ Statutory definition of domestic abuse, including coercive, emotional and economic abuse.
⬤ Establish post of Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
LGA view: “There needs to be a greater focus on prevention and early intervention measures to tackle the root causes of domestic abuse and support more victims.”