In this newsletter:
DCN ANNUAL CONFERENCE: The highlights of the biggest gathering for district councils
CONFERENCE ANNOUNCEMENTS: Two big developments revealed
MUST-READS: Our round-up of media and policy highlights for district councils
INNOVATION SPOTLIGHT: DCN unveils its district best practice library
NOTICEBOARD: Essential diary dates and opportunities for you and your council
DCN EXECUTIVE BOARD UPDATE: What our leaders discussed on 14 February
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What we want is freedom
DCN’s review of our annual conference, which took place last week
A rallying cry for freedom was a strong theme at last week’s DCN annual conference.
Over 200 delegates and speakers attended the prestigious event – the biggest conference for a predominantly district council audience – at Sopwell House near St Albans, Hertfordshire.
Delegates discussed how district councils are responding to key challenges such as helping to improve health outcomes, boost growth, and move towards net zero, as well as the scale of our work to support communities through the cost-of-living crisis.
But there was also a strong call to national politicians to provide a financial climate which will give councils assurance that they can continue this work long-term.
Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, Chairman of the DCN, said: “Districts and our partners in local government should be given the freedom and certainty we need to deliver a brighter future for the communities we know so well.”
Or, as DCN finance spokesperson Cllr Peter Fleming put it: “What I want is the freedom to be able to raise money locally, raise money through fees and charges, raise money to be able to invest in my local community.”
Addressing Local Government Minister Lee Rowley, he added: “I want you to take the shackles off district councils so they can continue to deliver for the communities that they serve.”
The DCN has been calling for greater freedom for district councils to set their own council tax as well as fees such as those charged for planning applications, which do not currently cover councils’ costs.
Mr Rowley addressed concerns about the recently-announced Oflog – the Office for Local Government – which were widely expressed to him by delegates. The minister agreed to meet district council representatives soon to discuss how we can make sure Oflog empowers local government rather than fettering it.
The Local Government Minister also praised DCN, saying: “They are such an effective advocate for district councils across central government.
“Thank you to all the DCN’s membership for all of your efforts – this has been one of the most extraordinary periods we’ve ever gone through. That’s caused a huge challenge for you in local government.”
The conference also saw the release of research by the analysts BritainThinks on how residents value their councils.
The firm’s co-founder and managing partner Ben Shimshon said: “54% of residents are satisfied with their district council services. This is a really good score for a government organisation.”
And Local Government Association Chairman Cllr James Jamieson said: “This report is putting a bit of fat on what we already know – local government is much better at delivering services than central government.”
It was a successful and enjoyable DCN conference. Thank you to everyone who spoke and attended. Thank you also to our strategic partners for supporting the event: Capita, CCLA, Eamli, Iese, Local Partnerships, Norse Group and Vistry Group.
Together we are stronger. And with the freedom we seek we will be stronger still.
Research unveiled Exclusive research has revealed unprecedented insight into the value people place on universal local public services and their trust in the councils providing them.
Read the BritainThinks report: Districts Deliver – how local people view their councils.
New APPG chair Rt Hon Brandon Lewis CBE MP is to serve as the new Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for District Councils, the District Councils’ Network (DCN) is delighted to announce. Read the full story here. You can see Mr Lewis’s video in which he explains why he has taken on the role here.
The MJ’s district sector analysis: Fighting for freedom
Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, DCN Chair, in the MJ: Our communities know district councils are delivering
Cllr Bridget Smith, DCN Vice-Chair, in LGC: Districts’ scale means that we deliver
Professor Colin Copus, emeritus professor of local politics at De Montfort University, in the MJ: Keeping local government local
LGC: Two thirds of residents say districts help instil pride, poll finds
LGC: Jamieson: England needs ‘proper devolution’
The MJ: Watchdog will protect councils says Rowley
LGC: Minister insists Oflog will be a ‘protective shield’ amid sector scepticism
LGC: Jamieson ‘disappointed’ by finance settlement’s lack of extra support for districts
Localis and Housing Finance Institute: Public Rental Homes – Fresh perspectives
BBC Sports Editor Dan Roan: Sports bodies issue ‘urgent plea’ for help from UK prime minister amid energy crisis
DCN has unveiled its new best practice library which showcases member councils’ innovative approaches on place leadership, wellbeing and environmental issues.
You can read all of our Innovation Spotlight case studies here. Here are extracts from district innovation case studies which we featured at our annual conference:
Cherwell District Council: You Move
This family project focuses on breaking down barriers such as cost and availability that stop people from being physically active. Over 3,500 families have registered – the vast majority of them with children on free school meals.
Tendring District Council: Primary school wellbeing hubs
Wellbeing hubs to support children and their parents or carers have been introduced in 16 primary schools. The focus is on giving children with difficulties resilience skills, encouragement to express emotion and support to develop their self-esteem.
Lichfield District Council: Driving nature recovery
The ‘Lichfield Model’ aims to create bigger, better and connected wildlife habitats through early implementation of Biodiversity Net Gain rules.
Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils: Tree canopy survey and planting
The councils commissioned a satellite tree canopy survey which identified and mapped existing tree cover and habitat networks. The aim is to identify areas where biodiversity is thriving and areas where it could be strengthened by planting new trees.
Cambridge City Council: Modular pods for homeless people
Sixteen modular homes on land on three sites have been provided as the result of the council’s work with the Cambridge Investment Partnership.
Stevenage Borough Council: Oaks Cross Emergency Housing Scheme
Oaks Cross is a highly sustainable, low-cost development of 11 purpose-built houses. The council aims to grow the number of affordable properties in the town by 500 by 2025.
NOTICEBOARD: Events, opportunities and information to help you
Levelling up survey: Councils’ ability to place-make and level up their places is the subject of a survey for district councils devised by Localis and Capita, which closes on 16 March. To take part in the survey, which forms part of their Level measures work to set out a modern agenda for public service integration, click here.
Finance and council tax survey: The DCN is running a survey for district section 151 officers to gather evidence on the financial pressures our member councils will face in 2023-24. It focuses on council tax, financial reserves and Sales, Fees and Charges. The survey closes on 8 March. To complete it, click here.
Planning fees: DCN has welcomed proposals to increase planning fees by 35% for major applications and 25% for minor ones set out by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities. To participate in the consultation which ends on 25 April, click here.
Post-election planning: The Local Government Association is holding a series of virtual confidential events to help chief executives plan for different scenarios following the May 2023 elections. These will include hearing from speakers who have experienced leadership changes. The events will take place at 10-11am on Wednesday, 8 March (with this session intended for chiefs of more than one council operating shared service agreements) and at 11am-12pm on Monday, 13 March. To attend email email@example.com.
Disability The Local Government Association has published a guide as part of its Be a Councillor campaign on Improving access to local government elected office for disabled people. It can be read here.
DCN EXEC BOARD UPDATE What the DCN member board discussed on 14 February
The DCN Board was pleased to welcome Brandon Lewis MP, the new Chair of the District All-Party Parliamentary Group, to the DCN to discuss priorities for the APPG.
The Board also discussed:
- DCN strategic priority update: regeneration and growth
- DCN strategic priority update: environment and sustainability
- A look ahead to DCN annual conference.