The LGA is helping shape and deliver the Government’s new legislative programme so that local communities are empowered to tackle inequalities
On 10 May, during the State Opening of Parliament, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen, set out the Government’s agenda for the 2022-23 parliamentary session.
Through the speech, the Government announced a wide range of proposals of interest to local government, including measures relating to devolution, planning, council tax, education, energy, housing, health, crime and justice.
Proposals will also be brought forward which will cover business rates, data reform, public procurement, local audit and post-Brexit regulation.
Much of the legislation centres on the Government’s 12 levelling up ‘missions’, which ministers committed to enshrining in law back in February. This meant the Queen’s Speech did not bring any significant surprises.
In what could be potentially the busiest legislative programme in more than 15 years, these form part of a package of draft reforms comprising 38 bills. The previous record is held by the 2005 Queen’s Speech, which contained 45 pieces of legislation.
This is in addition to a number of strategies and policy measures that were also announced.
Demonstrating the need to get such a significant package through the fixed parliamentary calendar, the Government was quick off the mark in introducing – or in some cases, re-introducing from the last Parliament – 13 bills in the same week as the Queen’s Speech.
Crucially for local government, these include legislation that will be of high priority to the LGA as we lobby on behalf of councils.
The much-anticipated Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill seeks to empower local leaders to regenerate their areas with measures covering devolution, planning and local government finance reforms.
Illustrating the Government’s plans to make levelling up a tangible programme of reform, the Bill will enshrine the levelling up mission statements for at least five years, measure progress on them through new metrics, and provide for the publication of an annual report updating the country on the delivery of these missions.
Crucially for councils with aspirations of playing a part in decentralising one of the most centralised government systems in the world, the Bill will create a new model of combined authority called ‘combined county authorities’.
To support these new devolution deals and make sure they can be brought forward quickly, the Bill will streamline the process of bringing forward new deals for combined authorities and enabling them to move into directly elected leadership governance models.
This is a welcome development for councils and makes good on the Government’s commitment to offer all of England the opportunity to benefit from a devolution deal by 2030.
The experience of previous rounds of devolution negotiations has underlined the value of local collaboration and consensus between all partners and we expect the Government to continue on this basis.
The LGA will be working with councils and government to ensure that the metrics used to produce an annual report on the levelling up missions are fully consulted on and reflect the diverse needs and aspirations of communities across the country.
The Bill also seeks to bring forward some of the planning measures that were previously expected in the aborted Planning Bill, which was proposed in the 2021 Queen’s Speech.
The new Bill includes measures aimed at digitalising, simplifying and standardising the local plan system and making it easier for councils to get those plans in place; introducing a new approach to environmental assessment; and a new, locally set and non-negotiable infrastructure levy.
Pavement licensing will become a more permanent feature of our high streets, and there will be reforms around the process by which street names can be altered.
New powers will be introduced to allow local authorities to bring empty premises back into use, and billing authorities will have powers to charge up to double the usual council tax rate for second homes and homes left empty for one year, instead of the current two.
In our response, the LGA reiterated the importance of a local, plan-led system to delivering on our shared levelling up ambitions and ensuring councils can deliver the right types of homes in the right places with appropriate infrastructure.
This is why it is good to see the proposals to limit speculative development applications as part of the new simplified local plan system, and we want to work with the Government to ensure the new infrastructure levy is a success.
The LGA continues to push the importance of supporting councils to build a new generation of high-quality and energy-efficient council homes.
Other key measures in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill include proposals to enable the Secretary of State to intervene in councils’ borrowing and investment activity.
This clause potentially gives the Secretary of State significant powers to intervene in a local authority and we are seeking clarification as to what the proposals mean.
The LGA will engage with parliamentarians as the Bill progresses to ensure that councils’ views on this are represented.
In line with the Government’s levelling up mission to make sure every child can reach their full potential, the Schools Bill seeks to deliver a higher-performing school system.
It will implement proposals in the schools White Paper, ‘Opportunity for all’, published in March, which include plans to allow councils to set up their own multi-academy trusts and a new compulsory register for children not in school.
Many councillors will be familiar with the LGA’s and councils’ longstanding campaigns on these issues.
Overall, the principles of the Bill recognise the important role of councils as education partners and enable maintained schools to continue enjoying a close working relationship with their council where that is the preference of schools and parents.
The LGA disagrees with the proposed new direct national funding formula, which we believe should retain an element of local discretion, allowing for councils to take local priorities and the needs of all schools in their area into account.
We are also seeking for councils, who know their local areas best, to be the bodies that hold the necessary powers to take action against illegal schools. As the Bill stands, these enhanced powers would be held by Ofsted.
The LGA looks forward to working with councils, parliamentarians and the Government to shape its proposed legislative programme.
We will be making the case that councils need the funding and powers to address regional inequality, tackle concentrations of deprivation, ensure everyone achieves their potential, and make all towns, cities and communities across England attractive places to live, work and visit.