We wish you a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year
The last twelve months has witnessed a momentous year of change on the national and international stage. District members have continued to stick to their task in serving people and place to the best of their ability.
Notably, with housing the declared top priority of Communities and Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, districts are truly delivering – providing more than one in every two new build homes nationally.
As a network, DCN has worked hard to promote the interests of all 201 district councils in England, as our round up of this year’s highlights will make clear.
We will work with renewed vigour in 2017 to make sure the district role as strategic planning and housing authorities is fully recognised in the Housing White Paper and that our financial base is protected in the move towards full business rate retention as signalled in the Local Growth and Jobs Bill.
We will also continue to lobby hard on those finance issues that directly impact on you, not least the recent announcements in relation to the new homes bonus and introduction of a new baseline rate of 0.4% which will adversely impact on funding for all district councils.
Wishing all our members a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.
Cllr Neil Clarke MBE, chairman of the District Councils’ Network
Sandra Dinneen, chairman of the DCN Chief Executives’ Group
Consultation and briefing updates
The DCN produced an on the day response and members briefing to the last Autumn Statement in which the network made clear it recognised the chancellor’s view that as an issue of paramount importance, housing is a national asset and driver of economic growth.
Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement
The Local Government Finance Settlement, which took place Thursday 15 December, pivoted around redistributing cash from within the local government finance system to help fund adult social care.
Of greatest impact to DCN members was the Government response to the consultation on the New Homes Bonus which advocates:
- diverting £240m of the cash to fund social services nationally;
- the introduction of a 0.4% baseline for growth in 2017/18 which would pay out only on housing above this threshold; the baseline may change again in future years;
- reducing the number of years from which legacy payments are paid from six years to five years in 2017-18, before reducing it further to four years in 2018-19;
- considering withholding NHB cash in future years for homes granted on appeal or for council who do not meet planning performance targets.
The DCN will be high-level making representations to ministers and officials to reduce the level of the baseline and mitigate the impact of changes on all district councils.
DCN National Conference
Update and Preview
The DCN National Conference ‘Districts Delivering Growth’ which takes place 2 to 3 February 2017 promises to be a sell-out event. Many thanks to all those who have pre-registered. Please note that virtually all places with onsite accommodation are now sold out, however we do have 25 rooms reserved at a nearby local hotel so please do book now to avoid disappointment.
The updated conference programme boasts an array of high-profile speakers led by secretaries of state for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid and Greg Clark for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy . Recent additions to the programme include Sir John Peace Chair of the Midlands Engine, Liam Booth-Smith, chief executive of think-tank Localis and Sean Nolan, Cipfa director of local government.
APPG for District Councils
Update and Call to Respond
The All Party Parliament Group for District Councils has launched its first inquiry on the subject of collaboration and devolution. This exercise represents an important forward step in advancing this agenda and is an opportunity to highlight the innovative work districts are engaged with across the country.
The inquiry will examine the future possibilities and opportunities for local government in the localities. The deadline for responses was yesterday and to date over 60 responses have been received.
Dates of formal evidence sessions next year will be as follows; 24 January, 21 February, 7 March and 28 March, all from 14:00 to 16:00 at the House of Commons.
Lobbying and Campaigning
In recent months the DCN has been working to influence ministers and officials over the following key issues affecting members:
- Neighbourhood Planning Bill: DCN has been busily engaged to oppose and mitigate proposals outlined in the legislation which would give county councils powers to create and deliver local plans at instances where districts had failed to do so.
- Housing White Paper
Set for release in January 2017, the Government’s Housing White Paper is expected to herald a step change in the Government’s approach to speeding up the supply of new homes. It is intended the paper will specify not only remedies against landbanking by developers but also measures to increase the pace of planning consents, boost housing supply, improve tenure mix and apportion greater investment. This consultation will clearly contain both opportunity and risks alike for district members – and the network will be preparing a detailed response. DCN has been active in promoting pro-active solutions to ministers and officials, with DCN Chief Executives Group chair Sandra Dinneen giving evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee on 29 November and Housing and Planning Minister Gavin Barwell addressing the DCN Assembly on 17 November.
- Disabled Facilities Grants
The DCN has been working closely with partners at the Association for Directors of Adult Social Services the County Councils Network and the Department of Health to ensure districts receive the money assigned to them through the Better Care Fund to deliver vital services for our older and vulnerable residents.
End of Year Round Up
DCN has seen continual progress and improvement as a lobbying force and effective membership organisation in 2016. The key highlights have been:
- Securing universal right for districts to increase council tax by £5;
Reversal of government policy on negative Revenue Support Grant (RSG)
- Four DCN Assemblies – with high-profile speakers and strong policy agendas;
- Establishment of Public Health Task Force;
- Updated DCN website and digital content;
- Creation of DCN Prospectus;
- Joint statement of principles on full business rates retention in partnership with the County Councils Network and Rural Services Network;
- Joint proposal on transparency of council tax precept funding of Internal Drainage Boards with the Association of Drainage Authorities;
- Another successful year of engaging talented district council staff through the Staff Development Programme;
There have also been many high profile opinion pieces in trade journals:
- Neil Clarke: County unitaries are no panacea
- Districts’ role in prevention should be part of mainstream policy
- Alternative views on reorganisation
- We need more flexibility on planning
- A question of balance
- Neil Clarke and Mark Pawsey: In praise of district councils
- Comment: Drained by drainage levies
Recent & Forthcoming Events
The DCN Autumn Assembly 2016
The DCN Autumn Assembly “Building opportunities for districts to deliver housing growth and economic prosperity” was held at the offices of PA Consulting in Belgravia, London on 17 November. This included high-level presentations from Gavin Barwell, Minister for Housing, Planning and London and recently appointed Shadow Devolution Minister, Jim McMahon. Attendees at the packed event also heard an update on the DCN’s work in seeking to influence housing policy, best practice examples on commercial approaches to housing delivery and an expert panel debate on the district role in shaping the post-Brexit economy.
On 18 November The DCN and top manager’s organisation SOLACE held a successful joint workshop event in Leeds on the subject of commercialisation. The sell-out event included a case study from Colchester chief executive Adrian Pritchard and Hambelton chief executive Dr Justin Ives.
LGA Supported Housing Consultation Engagement Event
Wednesday 11 January from 10:00 to 16:00 at Etc Venues, Hatton Garden, near Farringdon, London
The LGA is holding a consultation engagement event for councils to share, debate and influence the development of new supported housing policy, including local government’s role and funding.
New supported housing policy, legislation and funding will affect how councils support older people, those recovering from mental illness, those with learning disabilities, those with drug and alcohol misuse issues, veterans, ex-offenders, those who find themselves homeless and those fleeing domestic violence.
To request a place please email Abigail.firstname.lastname@example.org
Establishing a Local Authority Housing Company
Thursday 9 February from 11:00 to 15:30 at South Norfolk House, Long Stratton, Cygnet Court, Norwich NR15 2XE
After the last DCN Assembly, a number of Councils approached South Norfolk Council (SNC) with an invitation for SNC to visit them to talk more about their experiences and much as SNC would have liked to, visiting all the individual Councils would have been quite a task.
However SNC are happy to assist and have therefore offered to host a follow up event for those keen to find out more! The day will be an opportunity to get the answers to questions you might have around the specifics of establishing a LA Housing Company.
The event will include informal sessions and the opportunity to speak to those officers and members who have been actively involved in the setting up and running the council’s company and there will be a choice of sessions to attend depending on your particular interest including sessions on:
- Political governance
- Governance challenges
- Financial challenges
- Practical challenges
There are a few spaces left for this event. The places will be assigned on a first come first served basis, so please contact Sinead Carey email@example.com or call 01508 533661 by 9th January to book you place
Requests for Information
The Centre for Public Scrutiny Survey
The Centre for Public Scrutiny is interested in the views of local politicians, council employees and other local people on scrutiny of local government: what works well, what are the risks and constraints, and what makes scrutiny an effective tool. We would like to invite anyone with an opinion on this issue to fill in a short survey on the subject.
Impact of accommodation shortage in metropolitan areas on district councils
The DCN is aware that some district councils are facing even greater demands on their housing supply with metropolitan councils (particularly in London) looking to purchase properties in shire districts localities to manage the lack of temporary/affordable accommodation within their own boundaries. The DCN would like to hear from those district councils who are experiencing this about the impact it is having on their own housing supply and demand for services in their specific area.
Please email the DCN at firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 13 January with the details set out above
Key diary dates for 2017
DCN National Conference, 2 and 3 February 2017
DCN Spring Assembly, 24 May to be followed by the APPG for District Councils Parliamentary Drinks Reception
DCN AGM, 4 July at the 2017 LGA conference in Birmingham (to be confirmed)