The Queen’s speech

As part of its #CouncilsCan campaign, the LGA has been calling for a new financial and devolutionary settlement for local government to empower councils to transform their local areas.

So it is encouraging that October’s Queen’s Speech signalled a renewed energy in favour of English devolution, and included some finance proposals.

Taking decisions over how to run local services closer to where people live is key to improving them and saving money. With no new devolution deals agreed in two years, councils will now look to work with government on how to kick-start this process in a way that works for all areas.

Councils are working to help their communities prepare for Brexit. They are as prepared as they can be, but information and resource gaps remain.

EU funding has been critical for councils and others in creating jobs, supporting small and medium enterprises, delivering skills, building infrastructure and boosting local growth in all types of areas across the country. The detail of the UK replacement fund (UKSPF) and quantum of funding remains an outstanding concern and progress needs to be made urgently.

The Government also announced that it will finally bring forward proposals to reform adult social care – a long-standing LGA priority. The Government’s proposals need to be substantive.

It is positive that the Queen’s Speech committed to ensuring that all young people have an excellent education. The recent additional money for council high needs budgets to support children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) will help councils deliver for children.

It is, however, disappointing that there is no mention of the urgent challenges facing children’s social care services as the pressures facing them are rapidly becoming unsustainable. Government should act to ensure councils have the resources they need to keep children safe and support their wellbeing in years to come.

Reforming the building safety system is urgent so we are pleased that the Queen’s Speech includes legislation to enshrine a tough new system into law. We need a partnership between the new building regulator, councils and fire services, with local authorities given effective powers, including meaningful sanctions.

Other proposed bills of interest to councils cover domestic abuse, serious violence and sentencing; the NHS, health service safety investigations, and mental health; broadband and trade; EU funding and immigration; and the Armed Forces Covenant, electoral integrity, infrastructure, rail reform and animal welfare.

Adult social care

  • The Government will bring forward proposals to reform adult social care in England to ensure dignity in old age.

LGA view: “The Government must set out its thinking at the earliest opportunity. We need practical and workable proposals to secure social care for the generations to come so that adults of all ages are supported to live the lives they want to lead. This means ensuring the current system is adequately funded, as well as introducing reforms that improve access to care and pool the financial risk so individuals do not face catastrophic costs.”

English devolution

  • A Devolution White Paper will “unleash regional potential in England” and enable decisions affecting local people to be made locally.

LGA view: “There is clear and significant evidence that outcomes improve and the country gets better value for money when councils have the freedoms and funding to make local decisions. The future devolution of powers should not be contingent on the adoption of a mayoral governance model and areas should be able to propose their own governance arrangements. To enable meaningful and self-sufficient financial management, further fiscal devolution is necessary. This could take the shape of assignment of national taxation (such as a share of fuel duty or income tax), further powers over existing local taxes (such as the abolition of the council tax referendum threshold and full control over discounts) and powers to create new levies, such as a local tourism tax or an e-commerce levy.”

Serious violence

  • A Serious Violence Bill will place a new duty on public sector bodies, ensuring they work together to address serious violence.
  • The Bill will also ensure that serious violence is an explicit priority for community safety partnerships.

LGA view: “We support a public health approach to tackling serious violent crime, which has become an increasing priority for councils. Early intervention and prevention needs to be central to this work, as opposed to relying solely on a criminal justice strategy. In order to tackle serious violence in our communities, the funding cuts to local youth services, youth offending teams and councils’ public health budgets need to be reversed.” 

Domestic abuse

  • The Bill aims to transform the approach of the justice system and other agencies to victims of domestic abuse.
  • Proposals include defining domestic abuse and establishing the post of Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

LGA view: “Addressing all forms of domestic abuse is a high priority for councils and we support the Bill’s objectives of ensuring that people feel able to report abuse. 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. This should include funding and investment for evidence-based perpetrator programmes and for key learning and best practice from domestic homicide reviews to be shared on a national level.”

Building safety

  • The Government will bring forward laws to implement new building safety standards, including a new safety framework for high-rise residential buildings.
  • It will provide clearer accountability for, and stronger duties on, those responsible for high-rise safety; give residents a stronger voice; and strengthen enforcement and sanctions.

LGA view:  “Reform of our failed building safety system cannot come soon enough. However, in designing the new regulatory framework, we must avoid creating a two-tier building safety system. A close partnership between the new building regulator, councils and the fire service will be essential in ensuring we can build safe communities, towns and cities. At the core of this new partnership must be tougher enforcement powers for councils and the fire service.”

The environment

  • Measures will be introduced to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats so plants and wildlife can thrive.
  • Legislation will also create new legally binding environmental improvement targets, and establish an independent regulator to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action.

LGA view: “We welcome the Bill’s intention to strengthen local powers in relation to air quality enforcement. Many of our powers are decades old and need to be reformed to fit with modern sources of emissions. Additional resources will need to be available for councils to deal effectively with environmental protection. Local government wants to see measures that reduce the amount of unnecessary and unrecyclable material becoming an issue in the first place. The LGA has long called for retailers and manufacturers to pay for recycling and disposing of packaging in household waste and we welcome the commitment to do this.”

This is an edited version of the LGA’s ‘Queen’s Speech 2019: on-the-day briefing’. To read the briefing in full, please visit www.local.gov.uk/parliament/briefings-and-responses/queens-speech-2019-day-briefing. For more on our #CouncilsCan campaign, see www.local.gov.uk/councils-can.

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