80/20 district county business rate split set to stay

The District Councils’ Network today welcomed the commitment by Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, that the proposed 80/20 proportion split of business rate growth income between district and county councils is set to remain.

At today’s District Councils’ Network Assembly meeting (Thursday 28 June 2012), held at the Local Government Conference at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, confirmed his commitment that the 80/20 districts/counties share of increased business rates income is set to remain.

Councillor Sharon Taylor, Lead Member for Finance at the District Councils’ Network, commented: “On behalf of district councils nationwide, we welcome the announcement made by Eric Pickles MP today that the proposed business rate funding split between district and county councils is set to remain. We also welcomed Mr Pickles’ support of district councils and the acknowledgement of the vital role districts play in shaping and supporting communities and local economies up and down the country.”

At the Assembly meeting, Nazeya Hussain, Head of Policy and Partnerships at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, spoke about Community Budgets and the challenges and benefits of delivering this new approach. Nazeya outlined that by intervening earlier and in a more proactive way with one local family alone, it has been estimated that over £50,000 savings had been generate and more positive outcomes for the family had been achieved.

Councillor Neil Clarke, Chairman of the District Councils’ Network, explained: “It was interesting to hear how a culture shift across organisations in respect of local interventions can deliver such positive outcomes, both financially and socially. As a network we are looking forward to sharing the learning outcomes of the Community Budgets pilots with districts nationwide, to help them achieve similar far reaching results. I would also like to say a huge thank you to all the districts who attended our stand, meetings, evening event and our Assembly at this week’s LGA conference. The success of the Assembly, and the interest shown by Eric Pickles MP and Andrew Stunnell MP highlights the importance of and influence the network has with central government and with key ministers.”

The District Councils’ Network is a member led organisation and Special Interest Group (SIG) within the Local Government Association (LGA). It lobbies on behalf of district councils nationwide, as well as supports, shares best practices and provides advice and guidance. 189 district councils are signed up to the network.

For more information about the District Councils’ Networks, contact Emma Tucker, District Councils’ Network Manager on 0207 664 3049 or email emma.tucker@local.gov.uk

www.districtcouncils.info

Representing you – new autumn leaflet out now

Districts nationwide are facing some tough challenges. We need to work together to make our voice heard and promote the benefits of the network to districts nationwide.

The District Councils’ Network is making its voice heard by being responsive to government on issues which are important to our communities and by providing constructive comment. As part of the Local Government Group we are building strong links to other national organisations.

We are working to maximise the impact of the network by focussing on key priorities. In late 2011/early 2012 these will include the resource review, planning reforms, the localism bill, health reforms, welfare reforms and public service reforms. Ultimately, together these reforms will change the nature of local government, so we need to be involved in shaping how they will impact.

We believe districts are uniquely placed to voice the needs of our communities, and we will be working hard to establish districts place at the forefront of these changes.

Download our autumn leaflet to find out more about our plans for this autumn/winter and how you can get involved.

Growing UK Plc

Opinion by Cllr Neil Clarke, Chairman of the District Councils’ Network and Leader of Rushcliffe Borough Council (First appeard in PPP Journal August 2011.)

Growth is the Coalition Government’s top priority. Announcing the four new Enterprise Zones on 28th July 2011 the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: ‘I am determined that we should drive growth in every town, city and community in the country.’.

  • How are district councils, who are at the coalface, making this happen?
  • Have they been able to forge growth in recession hit Britain?

Here Cllr Neil Clarke, the Chairman of the 178 strong District Councils’ Network and Leader of Rushcliffe Borough Council, sets out how Districts are helping to grow UK Plc .

The 201 districts across England cover a huge swathe of our country. We are the strategic planning and housing authorities, roles which powerfully support districts as the lead for economic development in our areas.

We understand that prosperity is fundamental to the quality of life. Attracting inward investment, renewing and regenerating run down areas, creating vibrant town centres with good day and night time economies and creating diverse employment opportunities, are everyday business for us. It’s what we’re about.

  • Whilst Government can help to create the right conditions for growth, we make it happen.
  • Let me take you on a tour across UK Plc to see how we’re doing this.

At Fenland District Council the award winning £50m Nene Waterfront regeneration scheme in Wisbech has transformed 20 acres of derelict and dangerous land that had lain dormant for 20 years into a thriving new development.

New jobs, a business and conference centre alongside a Foyer scheme (housing with job support) for young people, and 128 leisure craft berths on a disused quayside were delivered. The land-mark 3-storey Boathouse (shown right) overlooking the river provides a high quality office environment for 37 knowledge-based businesses and a 100 of the 200 new jobs.

Driven by the core funding partners, Fenland District Council, the East of England Development Agency, English Partnerships and the European Regeneration Development Fund, together they put in more than £13.5m to cover the cost of acquiring the land, do remedial works and infrastructure improvements. The 5 year scheme has weathered the economic recession, although the 300+ housing development has slowed.

But how do these big developments get off the ground? What do Districts bring to the table?
Districts are planning and housing authorities and we’ll be spearheading the new planning regime, in which Government has centrally placed a presumption in favour of growth.

Let’s me take you to the south coast where Shepway District Council has just issued its planning blueprint. A new Folkestone racecourse, improvements to Folkestone, Hythe and New Romney town centres, new homes and a school at Westenhanger, new community green space in Seabrook, a new school in Shorncliffe plus 350 new and more efficient homes a year are the headline proposals in its Local Development Framework, and which will guide the planning of the district for the next 20 years.

But will it be delivered?

Shepway District Council have a track record for delivery. Take a look at the Coastal Park. Dating from 1784, in 2000 it was sadly neglected and overgrown. Shepway DC took it in hand and raised funds for the £1.4m makeover. This is development which provides a quality public realm – its Wild Zone is home to the largest free children’s adventure play area in the south east.

Despite the tough economic times, Folkestone has seen a momentum for growth increase its retail offer through the development of a Creative Quarter, including the opening of the Performing Arts and Business Centre in the Spring of 2009, a high quality mixed-use development at Folkestone Harbour and Seafront, the arrival of the High Speed One service in December 2009, so now St Pancras is only 50 minutes away, the revitalisation of green spaces, new beaches, upgraded streets and improved community facilities. All this has been possible as a result of Shepway District Council working with other public, private, charitable and community sectors.

Let me take you to the picturesque Chilterns, with the M40 and A40 offering growth opportunities. Wycombe District Council tackled falling footfall in its largest settlement, High Wycombe, a town with a proud heritage as a traditional English market town.

Eden, High Wycombe, a shopping and entertainment complex, attracts over 350,000 visitors per week and is one of the top 30 largest UK shopping centres. 107 shops, a bowling alley, a cinema and a library, with parking for 1600 cars, the complex also includes a new bus station and 48 residential apartments. Operating since 2008, the £350m investment was delivered by a public and private sector consortium.

Many of our districts are places where people like living, as they offer a wonderful environment with good access to facilities. Tackling the housing shortage in districts which have high demand and rising house prices is a constant challenge for these councils, as is creating new jobs for local people. Warwick District Council have just signed a 10-year joint venture with Waterloo Housing Group which will deliver 1200 new affordable homes, with a local end to end supply chain beyond the traditional local construction apprenticeships, and includes local advisory services.

East Staffs Borough Council is tackling the problem of a town centre with a changing industrial heart and pre-1919 terraced homes. The tough economic climate has presented real challenges, but the Council’s Growth Point programme, aimed at kick starting economic growth through new jobs and housing, has seen its partner Trent & Dove Housing buck the trend and exceed its targets for building new homes over the 3 year period of the recession.  This included the refurbishment of 26 existing homes in Burton town centre and the opening of the £3.5m Charrington House, a new affordable housing development that has rejuvenated a gateway into Burton and provided 34 ‘city living’ apartments, with state-of-the-art sound-proofed windows, high-tech solar panels which power lighting in communal areas and generate electricity.

Nearby in the historic cathedral city of Lichfield, a public private collaboration between Bromford Carinthia Housing, the Homes and Community Agency, S. Harrison Developments and Lichfield District Council has managed to beat the worst of the recession, delivering 83 new affordable homes, 400+ car park, a hotel and a retail business. The total inward investment of £15m saw a start on site in March 2011, with a finish date of Winter 2012.

Let me take you to the north west, to the ancient settlement dating back to 1086, to Preston, England’s newest city.
With a population of 131,900, Preston is growing, and the city’s driving vision is to be the 3rd city of the North West, after Manchester and Liverpool, with the progression of major projects including the £700m Tithebarn scheme. And it’s not just about shops – it is wholesale city centre regeneration, offering a cosmopolitan city-working/city-living with new shops, homes, offices, revitalised markets and a new bus station.

I could take you to many other districts and show you examples of innovation and initiative which create the wealth our country needs. With our unremitting focus on place, and being close to our people, we work with them to bring about the growth that UK Plc badly needs, and make our districts great places to live.

Find out more about the work of district councils nationwide by reading our case studies - a rich source of over 300 case studies on a variety of topics.

District view by Nina Dawes, Chief Executive of Lichfield District Council

First appeared in the Municipal Journal 8.9.11

The thoughts of those of us who escaped the recent town centre troubles were with our colleagues who had to activate their civil contingency plans to bring order back to the streets.

With the prime minister, David Cameron, promising to ‘turn around’ 120,000 problem families know to disrupt neighbourhoods, as well as a renewed focus on encouraging responsiblity and ‘moral’ behaviour, we need to shout loud and clear about what works – and why.

For districts, building community spirit and pride is a centrifugal force. We have a long track record in leading on community safety since Parliament placed a duty on us to do so in the early 1990s, and we have run services which are key to this agenda.

Many of us have ‘Saturday nights sports projects’, such as those organised by East Lindsey DC. The idea of sporting activity generating a real sense of belonging and community spirit is married to making it available when boredom might kick in, because ‘there’s nothing to do’. Using our leisure resources to reduce anti-social behavour is obvious.

Sevenoaks DC’s Power Project is also typical of programmes run by district councils, which aim to give young people more control over their own lives by introducing them to new things and getting them to try them out. Young people are referred because they pose a risk of committing offences, and bespoke plans are shaped by partners.

And, while ‘war is declared on gangs’ and ‘fight backs’ are urged at the same time as calls for harsh sentencing mount, councils such as Harlow DC have been running a ‘community payback scheme’ in which offenders do unpaid work. Clearing graffiti and helping decorate public buildings can help to reconnect those who feel offending is acceptable.

We know there is no magic want or quick-fix, but we mustn’t let others lose sight of what works, and why.

Nina Dawes is Chief Executive of Lichfied District Council and a member of the District Councils’ Network.

The DCN in the Municipal Journal

The network appeared in the Municipal Journal on the 14 July 2007. 

Look out for us on page 25 in the MJ People

www.themj.co.uk

The MJ is a leading information, intelligence and news resource for anyone who needs to know about the UK’s local authorities. It is published by Hemming Group Ltd, a family owned and privately run company with more than 100 years experience of publishing and event organising for local government.

Subscribers are chief executives, senior managers, elected officials and private sector executives working for, or with, local authorities throughout the UK.

Planning for traveller sites – our response

We recently responded on behalf of all district councils nationwide to the Secretary of State’s consultation on planning for traveller sites. Download our letter and consultation response, or read our letter below:

Dear Secretary of State,

Planning for traveller sites

As the District Councils’ Network, we welcome the opportunity to comment on this consultation but are disappointed in the proposals which we feel will not meet even the modest objectives the Coalition Government has set itself.

The District Councils’ Network is a Special Interest Group of the Local Government Group. It is a single voice for districts to central government and national organisations. It represents over 175 district councils.

The Government’s overarching policy objectives are fair and effective provision of authorised sites for travellers to facilitate the traditional and nomadic way of life of these groups whilst respecting the interests of the settled community. The consultation fails to achieve a satisfactory balance.

Although experience varies across districts, a high proportion of travellers are now not nomadic and they seek settled bases to enable access to educational and medical facilities. Indeed, many travellers submit these needs as justification for the establishment of traveller sites in planning proposals. To perpetuate the myth that all travellers remain nomadic, and hence require positive discrimination in planning terms will do nothing to reduce the tensions that exist between the traveller and the settled communities. The Government needs to improve the evidence base of the proposals. Whilst applauding the desire to have a light touch policy with the focus on locally driven needs assessments and the move away from a prescriptive top down approach, we will see when looking at the detailed objectives it sets out that it fails to address this. We welcome the approach of consolidating and streamlining guidance, but the guidance given – we would suggest the minimum necessary, has to achieve the right balance.

The proposed light touch policy in detail involves:

Enabling local authorities to make their own assessment of need
The main difference from the current approach is that there will no longer be a set way of assessing the need for pitches, with Councils being allowed to decide the methodology and to “get their own evidence based targets for the provision of pitches and plots”. A stronger linkage with the approach taken in other forms of housing is necessary. In practice, this will make no difference to the inequitable distribution of traveller sites.

Enabling local planning authorities to set their own targets
The comments about the RSS and the ‘Top Down Targets’ are misdirected. Although experience varies across regions, in some regions the targets were properly generated from a local evidence base. If LAs are to create their own ‘robust evidence base’ and consequently targets, the resultant figure will be the same as that created through the sound Regional Spatial Strategies. It is the undemocratic regional planning process that is discredited, not the evidence base. It is sensible to plan for a five year supply and there is support for the alignment of the approach with other forms of housing development.

Encouraging local planning authorities to plan for sites over a reasonable timescale
The guidance (and consultation question) does not engage with this objective. Is the Government addressing local authority or market failure? Is the solution a market or intervention led process? If the latter, more than changes to the regulatory (planning system) will be needed to show progress in this Parliament. Given that the lack of provision is in at least part due to market failure, the implementation timescales are much too short. Our evidence suggests that Districts who have actively promoted sites have struggled to deliver them because the market has been unwilling to respond.

Protecting the Green Belt from development
The statement that traveller sites are inappropriate development in the Green Belt in the draft PPS is welcomed, but the DCN remains concerned that travellers will continue to gain planning permissions for sites in the Green Belt using the very special circumstances argument, as now. The PPS does not give sufficient comfort to local planning authorities that the Green Belt will be protected from such inappropriate development in the future in practice. Notwithstanding this the draft document focuses more on the Green Belt to the disadvantage of the remainder of the open countryside and locally identified ‘green’ areas in which there should also be a presumption against new gypsy and traveller sites as there is with new housing. This is very important in ensuring a level playing field with housing.

Encouraging local planning authorities, working collaboratively, to develop fair and effective strategies
Local Authorities should be encouraged to use the existing evidence base rather than ‘re-invent the wheel’ with more studies. In our view, not enough is known about the ‘Duty to cooperate’ process, and what will count as constructive engagement, to understand whether this will offer a successful solution. District councils will not want their plan making delayed with protracted negotiations. The draft PPS should be more flexible to allow plan making to reflect local circumstances, allowing a plan to be found sound where a council has planned a level of provision that is deliverable and appropriate to local circumstances. We believe consultation with traveller communities will reduce tensions.

Promoting more private provision (though not suitable for all)
In aligning planning policy with other forms of housing brings the two into competition. In normal circumstances land owners would promote their sites for housing and not for travellers. While in theory traveller sites need the same access to services as general housing, they will not be able to compete on land values unless there is some fairly hefty and sustained intervention from the public purse and acquisition is forced via equally expensive compulsory means. Many housing sites come from a strategic housing land viability assessment which is usually site owners promoting their own locations, it is fanciful to imply that there would be a rush of sites (that would also be suitable for housing) being promoted as traveller sites. If councils seek to promote these sites themselves they are highly likely to be undeliverable because of the need for huge public subsidy and large scale community opposition. The prospect for delivering sites through S106 agreements associated with larger developments should be explored.

Reducing the number of unauthorised developments
Given that the other provision failed to meet the objectives, the prospect of further unauthorised developments (we would prefer the term unlawful) is inevitable. The remedy – improved enforcement provision in the Localism Bill, is not yet legislation or enacted through the inevitable orders which will follow and in some instances (stop notices) render the councils liable for compensation. The emphasis on temporary permission merely provides for a long term enforcement headache. There may be particular local circumstances where temporary consents are appropriate, but they can hardly form the basis of a major part of policy.

Ensuring the development plan has fair, realistic and inclusive policies
It is difficult to disagree with this as an objective, but in terms of fairness this must be apparent equally to the settled community, realism needs resources and inclusion requires a proactive approach to consultation which will need time to build up the trust and confidence in the system and policies.

Increasing the number of traveller sites, to address under provision etc
The 5-year housing land supply is fine where there is an economic force promoting the conveyor belt of delivery although this has slowed down in the current economic climate. Simply to impose the performance target will not achieve meaningful delivery without unlocking the financial and community obstacles first. Additionally, what basis would there be to assess deliverability given the potential lack of owners promoting sites? Either there would be a rash of ghost sites being promoted (no real prospect of delivery just put in to make the numbers up) or authorities would be destined to fail and therefore unable to defend unauthorised sites. Assuming that land already in public ownership would be suitable, supported and sufficient to accommodate demand has not been proven.

Reducing tensions between the settled and traveller communities
Elements of the settled community have often expressed dissatisfaction about the way travellers are regarded as a special case in planning legislation, and that they are allowed to reside where the settled community cannot. The draft PPS does nothing to overcome this inequality as it risks the approval of sites beyond established settlements in the open countryside, without requiring the establishment of any local connections. The establishment of rural exception sites for affordable homes requires a local need to be established. If local connections cannot be a requirement for the establishment of traveller sites, policies allowing rural exception sites for travellers cannot be equitable. Good consultation is the key to reducing tensions. A good easy to read leaflet for travellers based on the final version of this policy statement would be helpful.

Enabling provision so travellers can access education, health, welfare and employment
There is an inherent contradiction in the Government’s approach. To achieve this implies suitable locations were next to or within existing settlements in effect an alignment of planning policies. If the Government is right that the demand is from essentially nomadic travellers, many may not want to be in close proximity with other forms of housing. Existing communities do not always welcome members of the travelling community though experience varies. Some districts believe that accepting a respectful separation on the basis of an incompatibility of life styles would be a more realistic aspiration and would take them out of competition with other housing development and therefore aid delivery, but would mean this objective could not be met and may bring it into conflict with protecting the open countryside. It may be this objective is only really deliverable as part of major settlement expansions.

As Secretary of State, you have written to local councils to warn us over the risks of unauthorised development over Bank Holidays – specifically mentioned land owned by travellers. “It is wrong that a small minority of planning cheats can play the system in this way, leaving councils with months, and sometimes years, of hassle to get rid of developments that shouldn’t be there.

Unauthorised developments have also created tensions between travellers and the settled population. We want to redress that balance and put fairness back into communities.”

Measured against that objective, which crystallises what the Government should be aiming for, the proposed approach manifestly fails.

I hope you have found our response to be not only useful but informed by the experience of many districts. We noted your answer at the LGA Conference that it was important that our views should be heard in the consultation process. In order to take it forward, DCLG should engage with districts and other local authorities in round table sessions to discuss these issues and come up with a realistic and deliverable policy. We would be very happy to participate in these sessions. It is important to work through the final version of this guidance with the Localism Bill – there was an amendment recently for local authorities to review traveller needs every five years.

A copy of our detailed response is appended which, together with this letter, is copied to Paul Williams. To discuss the District Councils’ Network response please contact emma.tucker@local.gov.uk or on 0207 664 3049.

Yours sincerely,
Gillian Brown
Planning Lead
District Councils’ Network

Campaigning on Universal Credit

At last week’s Local Government Group Conference a number of our members asked us to bring them up to speed on the issues and implications surrounding the government’s proposed move to Universal Credit and the localisation of council tax benefit.

Find out more:

In summary, the main changes being proposed by government are:

  • Councils will no longer administer and, the presumption is, deliver housing benefit.
  • Universal Credit will be administered nationally and delivered through Job Centre Plus and other central government portals.
  • Council tax benefit will become the full responsibility of local authorities, through locally determined schemes, with all the associated risk.
  • Universal Credit will be applied for online or over the phone, the government believes only 20% of applicants will need any face to face interaction.

The recent survey we carried out with nearly 60% of district councils nationwide contradicts this. It shows that currently the percentage of recipients of housing benefit that need face to face interactions ranges between 20-80%, depending on local circumstances.

On behalf of district councils nationwide, the District Councils’ Network is lobbying and campaigning on this issue as, although we are not the only part of local government affected, it will disproportionably impact on us and our customers.

We have been asked to give evidence, on behalf of the Local Government Group, to the Select Committee that is looking at these changes. To find out more, or give us your views email:

Alternatively contact:

Thanks for submitting a case study to the District Councils’ Network stand

Thanks for submitting a case study to the District Councils’ Network stand at this year’s LGG conference.

The conference was a great success. The stand was visited by a number of high profile ministers including the Rt Hon Eric Pickles, and the Rt Hon Greg Clark, Minister for Decentralisation.

Hundreds of case studies were picked up by agencies, councils and government departments. We also started tweeting at the conference, which saw hits on our new website increase, and attendance at our stand and meetings go up.

Thanks again for submitting a case study and for helping us to raise the profile of the work of district councils nationwide.

Follow us on Twitter We’re now on Twitter. Follow us at http://twitter.com/districtcouncil

Do you get our e-news We’ll be issuing an e-newsletter with all of the news from the conference, including our new chairman and what’s coming up during 2011. If you don’t already receive our e-newsletters, email emma.tucker@local.gov.uk to sign up.

The Rt Hon Greg Clark, Minster for Decentralisation, browses DC case studies

The Rt Hon Greg Clark, stopped by the DCN stand on his way to the Conservative Group Meeting, to take a look at the case studies hundreds of district councils across the country submitted as part of our preparations for the conference. Emma Tucker, the DCN Manager, took time to explain the case studies and highlight some best DC practice.

Emma Tucker, DCN Manager, shows Greg Clark through the case studies

Emma Tucker, DCN Manager, shows Greg Clark through the case studies

The Rt Hon Greg Clark and Emma discuss best DCN practice

The Rt Hon Greg Clark and Emma discuss best DCN practice

 

 

On the stand

On the stand

 

 

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles visits the DCN stand at the ICC

After his presentation to the Assembly, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles stopped by the DCN stand to look at the case studies, and met Rhiannon Purkis, Comms Officer from the DCN and Lichfield DC.

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles at the DCN stand

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles at the DCN stand

Eric Pickles meets Rhiannon Purkis, Comms Officer for the DCN and Lichfield District Council

Eric Pickles meets Rhiannon Purkis, Comms Officer for the DCN and Lichfield District Council

Cllr Neil Clarke, our new Chairman, welcomes the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP is on stage at the DCN Assembly, addressing our members on the resource review and Universal Credit. He was welcomed by our new Chairman Cllr Neil Clarke, and our outgoing Chairman Cllr Gary Porter. Here they are in action:

Cllr Gary Porter welcomes the Assembly

Cllr Gary Porter welcomes the Assembly

 

 

Cllr Neil Clarke welcomes the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP

Cllr Neil Clarke welcomes the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles addresses the Assembly

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles addresses the Assembly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles addresses the Assembly

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles addresses the Assembly

 

 

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles to address DCN Assembly

Come to Hall 1 at the ICC today at 12.30 to hear from the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP about the Resource Review. Join in the debate on Universal Credit.

Agenda:

12.30 Welcome with Cllr Gary Porter

12.35 Keynote from Rt Hon Eric Pickles

12.55 Discussion: Universal Credit

1.15 DCN Finance

1.25 Minutes

1.30 Close

Everyone is welcome.

See you there.

DCN team.

A personal message from Councillor Gary Porter

I am standing down as Chair of the DCN and this is the last newsletter of my term.

I would first like to welcome all new councillors who were successful in the recent elections and pass on my best wishes to those who have held their seats, well done. I’d like to thank the councils that have supported the DCN over the last two years while it developed and I am sure it will go from strength to strength in the future under a new leadership.

I look forward along with you all to welcoming our new chair at the LGG conference and celebrating our successes together. I’d like to thank you all for supporting me as chair and for working with me to build this new and exciting organisation.

Conference News: Come to our stand D2

Steve Atkinson and David Buckle on the District Councils' Network Stand at the LGG conference

Steve Atkinson and David Buckle on the District Councils' Network Stand at the LGG conference

Once again the District Councils’ Network will be at the Local Government Groups (LGG) conference on 28-30 June.

We will be holding a number of meetings including our Annual Assembly meeting, which is set to be attended by Secretary of State Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP. We’ll also be promoting the work of hundreds of districts through a range of case studies on our stand which have been supplied by district teams nationwide.

The case studies highlight the best and most innovative projects, led by districts. If you can’t make it to the conference, make sure you check out our case studies online. Come find us on our stand D2, meet our communications team, Rhiannon and Lizzie, and the District Councils’ Network Manager, Emma Tucker.

We are interested to hear how we can work better with you, as well as how we can highlight your achievements and successes through the network. Visit the stand and you could win a bottle of Lanson champagne or just pick up some great freebies.

We will be on the stand, which overlooks the main hall, from Tuesday 28 – Thursday 30 June.

Conference News: See the Staffordshire Hoard at our reception

If you are wondering what social engagements to attend this year at conference, make sure you stop by the District Councils’ Network social reception at the Birmingham Museum and Arts Gallery in Chamberlain Square on Wednesday between 6pm – 7.30pm.

Come and meet other district council members and officers, meet the team behind the network, and experience the stunning surroundings of Birmingham’s unique Museum and Arts Gallery.

Pop along to Stand D2 to pick up an invite and confirm your attendance.

Conference News: Annual Assembly Meeting

We will be holding our Annual Assembly meeting at this year’s conference.

This year we are privileged to have the Secretary of State Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP in attendance. Come and listen to his plans and thoughts on the resource review.

The Assembly meeting is held in Hall 1 on 30 June at 12.30pm.

Everyone is welcome.

Association of District Councils funding

We are getting closer to accessing funding from the former Association of District Councils (ADC). In February councils were consulted on how to distribute the existing funds.

The results are in, and steps to liquidate the ADC have been put in place. It’s likely that we will receive the funds in the summer. We have agreed with the Local Government Association that they will hold our share of the funds, and we will draw down monies each year to underpin the work of the network.

With core funding in place, we are confident we will be able to continue to raise the profile of districts nationwide and represent all our needs at the highest levels of government.

£10 million extra for districts for concessionary fares

Since Christmas, our Chairman, Cllr Gary Porter, has attended the Secretary of State’s weekly briefings. This has given us an unrivalled opportunity to influence national policy, and already the meetings have delivered significant benefits for districts - an example of this is the extra £10m given to districts to support the transfer of concessionary fares.

We worked with the Secretary of State to highlight that £10 million had been removed from year two to fund year one, and to address this.

Our invitation to attend these meetings reflects our strength of membership, which now includes 80% of district councils nationwide, and the government’s recognition of our role as the unified voice for districts. It also highlights what we can all achieve by working together.

 

Supporting our community and voluntary sectors

Thanks for sharing with us your approach to funding the voluntary and community sector, as part of our consultation earlier this year.

Your responses show the majority of district councils plan to maintain the support they provide to the community and voluntary sector.

This highlights both the importance of the services local voluntary groups provide, and the key role district councils play as community leaders.

Thank you to all the councils who took part on the survey. If you want to see the full report email emma.tucker@local.gov.uk

Shaping Universal Credit

We’ve been working with the LGA to make sure Universal Credit serves our communities in the best possible way. Thanks to everyone who gave us their views. Here’s what you told us:

  • All district councils provide a face-to-face benefits service.
  • 37% of councils now serve more people face-to-face than 3 years ago.
  • 50% serve the same number of people face-to-face, despite investing in online services.
  • 81% believe the need for face-to-face contact will increase in the future.

You also told us how important face-to-face contact is to your communities. From making it easy for people to get the benefits they are entitled to and supporting vulnerable people’s more complex needs, through to preventing fraud, districts feel face-to-face contact is vital. We’re pulling together a full report on our research, which we’ll publish on our website, and also share with the Department of Work & Pensions to highlight the importance of community based services.

 

Scrutinising the Localism Bill

Following its second reading, we highlighted the following issues to the Public Bill Committee:

  • The Bill’s over centralising nature - includes 142 new powers for central government.
  • We need a full and open consultation on business rate relief, with both collecting authorities and small businesses.
  • Proposals on referendums are complex and impractical, and the costs associated with holding them will be high.
  • Holding referendums on council tax rises goes against The Secretary of State’s new powers to create alternative notional amounts (ANAs) for council tax rises.
  • Proposals to pass EU fines onto councils for missed targets need to be questioned.
  • Feedback on planning fees and the proposals around community right to buy, neighbourhood planning, and the Community Infrastructure Levy.

We also questioned the very low implementation costs and asked for further details from DCLG.

 

Abolition of the Audit Commission (AC).

In March we gave oral evidence to DCLG’s Select Committee on the abolition of the Audit Commission (AC). Councillor Fleming from Sevenoaks (our lead on performance) and Councillor Taylor from Stevenage (our lead on audit) gave evidence based on our original written submission.

Key points included:

  • The removal of the Audit Commission will create a free market approach to audit services.
  • Whilst the Audit Commission began with a clear strategy around financial audit, this grew in to Comprehensive Area Assessments, which offered little for districts.
  • We support the retention of both scrutiny and audit committees, and stressed their important role in ensuring effective and efficient service delivery and sound financial management.
  • We believe as much information as possible should be published as part of the transparency agenda, provided it is done so in a meaningful way that helps highlight how councils are achieving local priorities.
  • We support the view that CIPFAs guidelines on statement of accounts made them unintelligible to most people, and reform is needed.
  • Download a full transcript of the session.

The Localism Bill

Following the second reading the Localism Bill we submitted the network’s views to the public bill committee, as part of the scrutiny process.

We highlighted the following concerns:

  • The over centralising nature of parts of the bill, which includes 142 new powers for central government. 
  • DCLG’s suggested implementation costs for the bill, which as yet have not been explained in full, and seem to be very low. 
  • The proposals to pass EU fines on to councils for missed targets.
  • The need for a full and open consultation on business rate relief, with both collecting authorities and small businesses.
  • The complexity and impractical nature of the proposals on referendums, as well as the costs associated with holding them. 
  • The principle of holding referendums on council tax raises, which goes against
  • The Secretary of State’s new powers to create alternative notional amounts (ANAs) for council tax rises. 
  • Feedback on planning fees and the proposals around community right to buy, neighbourhood planning, and the Community Infrastructure Levy.

DCN Assembly

We held our spring Assembly meeting on 24 February at Local Government House. The event was attended by the Rt Hon Greg Clark, Minister for Decentralisation and Chris Williamson MP, Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government.

Both speakers addressed the Assembly on the government’s Localism Bill and answered questions about the Bill and about their parties’ policies.

We hold three assembly meetings every year. They are a great opportunity for district councils to come together to network, share ideas, share best practice and help develop the network.

There is often a high profile speaker, so it’s well worth attending. We have Eric Pickles provisionally booked for the next meeting in June, which is held at the LGA conference, which is taking place in Birmingham this year. 

Future assembly meeting dates

Summer 2011:      30 June at the LGA conference

Autumn 2011:       2 November at Local Government House

Spring 2012:         7 March at Local Government House

District Council Network launches

On Friday 13 November, the District Councils’ Network was formally launched at its first Assembly meeting in London. At the meeting, Councillor Gary Porter, Chairman of the District Councils’ Network and Leader of South Holland District Council, also announced that the Network is in negotiation to gain access to £2.8 million of the former Association of District Councils’ funds.

Cllr Gary Porter explained: “District councils have a real opportunity to speak with one powerful voice and significantly influence the next government through the District Councils’ Network. The ADC funds will provide the Network with real resources to push forward its programme and support the work of district councils nationwide.

Gary continued: “The funding will also mean the Network can reduce its member subscription fees, from £950 to a modest £150. Member subscriptions will help the essential work of the Network to get underway, whilst we complete funding negotiations.”

The vision and programme for the District Councils’ Network, as set out in its new business plan, was approved at the Assembly meeting. The business plan sets out how the District Councils’ Network will campaign on the key issues of importance to districts councils.

Gary continued: “From influencing national decision makers, and dealing with the unprecedented financial climate, through to tackling difficult issues, such as concessionary fares and pensions, and speaking out on the pivotal role we play at the heart of our local communities, the Network’s role is far reaching.”

The new Assembly also heard how the District Councils’ Network offers council leaders across the country an unequalled opportunity to share, tackle and address common issues. The new programme will principally help to generate much deserved recognition for the important work district councils undertake.

The new programme sets out how www.districtcouncils.info, which already hosts over 200 case studies, outlining good practice and shared initiatives, will be used to better share best practice and information.

Business plan and constitution approved

On Friday 13 November, the District Councils’ Network unanimously approved its new business plan and constitution at its annual Assembly meeting.

A raft of other changes were also announced, which will see the network reaching out to promote the achievements and address the needs of even more district councils nationwide.

Cllr Gary Porter, Leader of South Holland District Council, and Chairman of the District Councils’ Network, explains: “District councils are, without doubt, closest to the people. As such we are at the very heart of successful locality working and good customer relations. The District Councils’ Network offers members across the country an unequalled opportunity to share, tackle and address common issues. The new business plan will also help to generate much deserved recognition for the important work district councils undertake.”

The new business plan also sets out how www.districtcouncils.info will be used to better share best practice and information.

  • Download the network’s business plan
  • Download the network’s constitution