LocalismThe AJ's bloggers track the latest developments in the plan to hand power to the people
More than half of English councils have failed to draw up local plans in time for the NPPF’s introduction later this month
It promised to give local authorities the power to write their own development plans, but now experts say it is stifling growth and confusing an already murky planning process, reports Merlin Fulcher
The Localism Bill was given Royal Assent yesterday, opening the way for a ‘profound’ overhaul of the English planning system
Richard Rogers has hit out against the government’s proposed overhaul of the planning system claiming it could merge cities and ‘scar the countryside for generations’
The RIBA has urged architects to seize the localism agenda and help communities make the most of their new planning powers
The government has given MPs extra time to contribute to the debate over its controversial planning reforms following huge interest in the policy
The Localism agenda means more work and more proactivity, so getting the ‘key influencers’ on side early is critical, says Geoff Armstrong
Everybody wants to know what the impact of the government’s localism agenda will really be. Here are two, very different, explanatory guides
Craig Casci of Grid Architects argues that housing problems are a symptom of the broken planning system, not the lack of land or delivery
The planning inspectorate has issued guidance to its officers to start viewing the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as a ‘material consideration’ in their decisions
Chancellor George Osborne and communities secretary Eric Pickles have defended the governments’ proposed planning reforms amid fierce opposition from conservation groups
The fourth wave of councils to be given new neighbourhood planning powers has been named by the Department for Communities and Local Government
Fire Minister Brandon Lewis said:
Once again the FBU’s actions cast doubt over their claims that they are serious about reaching a negotiated settlement. I hosted discussions on fitness issues with the FBU and other organisations on 4 December. The discussions were constructive but while the consultation was still running, the FBU announced further strikes.
Firefighters will still get one of the most generous public pension schemes. Less than a quarter of firefighters will see any change in their retirement age in 2015 and more firefighters pensions are protected than in any other large public service workforce.
A firefighter who earns £29,000, and retires after a full career aged 60, will get a £19,000 a year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension. An equivalent private pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.
Only around a third of firefighters voted for industrial action in the FBU’s most recent ballot and further strikes serve only to damage the reputation of firefighters with the public they serve.
Only 15,748 firefighters voted for industrial action out of a total of 41,000 firefighters.
More details can be found on the Firefighters’ pension schemes reforms page.
With just over 10 days to go until Christmas, shoppers were urged to search for their loved ones’ gifts at a Love Your Local Christmas Market by High Street’s Minister Brandon Lewis.
On a visit to Southbank Christmas Market on 12 December, the minister said Christmas was a perfect time to support local traders which was why he encouraged every council in the country to make the most of this exciting opportunity to support their high street.
Organisers across the UK will be putting out the Love Your Local Market bunting and banners and organising special Christmas lights switch on events, carol singing and other themed events like food tastings from now until Christmas Eve.
High Streets Minister Brandon Lewis said:
Britain has a proud tradition of markets, which have long been the heartbeat of many communities, and I’m proud to offer them my support. Not only do markets offer the weird and wonderful and everyday staples, they offer a vibrancy and community spirit which the internet and out-of-town retail centres can’t.
Southbank’s Christmas Market is fantastic place to get those last minute gifts for loved ones. This market shows how businesses can work with local authorities to provide innovative and attractive places for the local community to enjoy. I urge traders and councils across the country to back this effective and important campaign, offer support to budding entrepreneurs looking to trade and Love Your Local Market.
The minister also announced that Bermondsey and Hereford were the first 2 areas to take advantage of the Business Improvement District (BIDs) Loan Fund announced in October and will receive loans of £24,000 and £40,000 respectively.
Business improvement districts are a tried and tested town centre catalyst, used in towns and cities across the world, to raise fund for improvements to local trading areas.
The role of business improvement districts in rejuvenating high streets is being tested by some of the Portas Pilots such as Bedford, Loughborough, Bedminster and Lowestoft.
Press release: Pubs, hairdressers and restaurants join forces to support growth of British high streets
Pubs, hairdressers and restaurants have been at the heart of town centres for decades and will now work with government to help revive them, High Streets Minister Brandon Lewis announced today (13 December 2013).
Mr Lewis said he will extend membership of the Future High Streets Forum to include representatives from the hospitality, leisure, food and services sectors - all of which play a major role in the success of our high streets, providing local jobs and contributing billions to the UK economy.
The changes have been made to include these industries and showcase the wider role that town centres play as places where people come to shop, use services and spend their leisure time, including in the evenings.
The new forum members reflect the diverse make-up of the high street and give true insight, understanding and leadership on the challenges they currently face. They also bring a wealth of skills, experience and expertise. The members are:
Brigid Simmonds, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pubs Association Mike Tye, Chief Executive Officer of the Spirit Pub Company Alison Bartlett, Head of Public Affairs at McDonald’s Hilary Hall, Chief Executive of the National Hairdressers’ Federation
The Future High Streets Forum brings together leading businesses, academics and local leaders to look at the challenges facing our town centres and to work with councils to build on what government has started. The extended membership means the forum will now represent a broader view of the high street and better reflect the day and evening economies.
The news comes a week after the billion pound package of support for the UK’s high streets was announced by the Secretary of State (6 December 2013) and the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement which gave small businesses the biggest package of business rates support in over 20 years.
High Streets Minister Brandon Lewis said:
The way we use our high streets is changing and we need to ensure they are places people want to spend their leisure time as well as shop. The Future High Streets Forum is an incredibly important part of the work we are doing to address challenges faced by the high street. And bringing representatives on board from such a variety of places will strengthen its community voice.
The new £1 billion high street support package includes new tax breaks for shops, sensible changes to parking rules and more power for councils. Our investment combined with the strong local leadership of the forum will help ensure high streets remain at the heart of our communities for decades to come.
Hilary Hall, Chief Executive of the National Hairdressers’ Federation, said:
We are delighted we have been asked to join the Future High Streets Forum. The National Hairdressers’ Federation represents 6,000 of the UK’s top hairdressers and barbers, the vast majority of them running small and micro salons. Our members are right at the heart of every high street and, as such, can offer a deep insight into what it is local high streets and local communities need.
Hairdressers are also passionate about service and customer experience, something the Mary Portas report highlighted as being at the core of the regeneration of the high street. Hairdressers are innovative, adaptable and creative, and we look forward to contributing to the important work being carried out by the forum.
Brigid Simmonds, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association said:
I am very pleased to be joining the Future High Streets Forum. Pubs have a vital role to play in fostering vibrant high streets, the night-time economy, and supporting the entire leisure industry. They also have great expertise in what makes their local high street tick. I look forward to getting started.
The Future High Streets Forum brings together civic and business leaders across retail, property and hospitality sectors - big and small - including the Post Office, Boots UK, John Lewis, Costa, the British Independent Retailers Association, the Association of Town and City Management, the Association of Convenience Stores and the British Property Federation. The new members comprise:
- the National Hairdressers’ Federation is the biggest salon trade association in the the hairdressing, barbering and beauty industries.The industry contributes over £5 billion to the UK economy and employs over 250,000 people
- McDonald’s represents one of the biggest family restaurant businesses in the world, serving over 3 million customers a day in the UK
- British Beer & Pubs Association members account for 96% of beer brewed in Britain today, and own more than half of the nation’s pubs
- the Spirit Pub Company covers over 1,200 pubs nationwide
Two years on from the Portas Review, this government has put in place a wide range of measures to help the high street. The government has already invested £18 million to help high streets, including funding 24 Portas Pilots and 330 town teams. The funds have also provided expert business support through the High Street Champions initiative in partnership with Business in the Community.
Towns up and down the country are already taking action to rejuvenate their high streets, with Forest Hill getting 7 out of 10 empty high street shops back into use using short term leases, Braintree reducing parking charges to bring more than 44,000 extra cars to the high street, and Market Rasen setting up an award winning market that brings extra people to the high street.
The government is also creating the right conditions so councils, businesses and communities can work together to rejuvenate their town centres:
- cutting their national insurance and corporation tax.
- planning restrictions have been lifted to help landlords make better use of their empty properties, either by allowing them to lease for shorter periods, helping start-up businesses to set up in the high street, or by making it easier to turn commercial properties into residential facilities to increase resident population and local footfall
- we have changed the previous approach to setting parking fees to discourage car use and provide ‘maximum’ parking levels, have changed planning rules to allow councils to make decisions about parking requirements and fees in order to best meet local needs and issued guidance that encourages councils to attract shoppers by setting competitive parking charges, and to improve the quality of parking in town centres so that it is convenient, safe and secure
Town hall red tape has been cut by almost one third since 2010 as central government further reduces the reporting requirements on local authorities, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today (12 December 2013).
The Department for Communities and Local Government has today published details of the data collections local authorities are required to submit to central government. Known as the single data list, it shows a further reduction in data demands, which builds on the significant progress already made.
A separate report commissioned by government today reveals that the number of datasets required by central government has been slashed by almost a third.
Comprehensive area assessment and local area agreements were scrapped in 2010, and since then 63 data collections have been stopped and a further 19 have been significantly reduced in scale.
Data is necessary for the effective management of services and accountability purposes. Robust, transparent and comparable data can also help citizens make informed choices and hold service providers to account. However it is recognised that the excessive collection, analysis and publication of data can be burdensome for local authorities.
This government is committed to reducing bureaucracy and freeing local authorities from unnecessary reporting burdens. Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis has written to council leaders to find out which further burdens could be reduced, collected in a less onerous fashion, or closed down completely.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:
Today’s report shows that we have successfully reduced the top down red tape burden on councils by almost a third. But I want to see Whitehall go further and faster still.
This government is committed to ending the era of top-down micro-management and is giving councils new powers to work for their communities so they are accountable to local people rather than central government.
The single data list is a list of all the datasets that local government must submit to central government.
There are 6 principles for assessing proposed new data requirements from local government. Each data request must comply with at least 1 of these principles.
Central government may reasonably require data from local councils:
- to fulfill international obligations, for example under EU directives
- to support the effective administration of funding - clarity is important here in highlighting where data are being used as proxies (for example, data on free school meals being used as a proxy for need)
- to support accountability to Parliament for national public funds and national policy decisions
- to hold public services to account, for example holding government to account for national delivery
- to support the evaluation of economic, social and environmental trends
- to provide comparable local performance data, by exception, where it doesn’t already exist, to enable local people to hold local services to account
The department set up a ‘gateway group’ on July 2012. It is responsible for ensuring that any new proposed data requirement is necessary, fully funded, places a minimal burden on local authorities and meets at least 1 of the 6 data principles before it can be added to the single data list. The gateway group has published its first annual report.
As part of the drive to help cut council waste and increase local accountability, new provisions were announced today (12 December 2013) to strengthen the public’s ability to hold councils to account.
The transparency code for councils introduced by the coalition government was voluntary, but adherence to it will now become mandatory for all councils with gross income or expenditure above £6.5 million.
In addition to existing requirements the statutory code will now also require councils to publish:
- spending on corporate credit cards
- greater openness on the money raised from parking charges, allowing residents to ‘go compare’ with neighbouring councils
- subsidies given to trade unions, including union “facility time”
- information on councils’ contract and tenders, to make it easier for small and medium firms to bid for work and introduce more competition to lower costs
- local authorities’ property assets, to help drive better efficiency of the £220 billion town hall estate
- grants given to voluntary and community groups, to show how councils are backing the Big Society
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:
Councils need to make sensible savings to help freeze Council Tax and protect frontline services. This new wave of town hall transparency will empower armchair auditors to expose municipal waste - from surplus offices and corporate credit cards to trade union ‘pilgrims’, and help councillors drive down costs. Greater power for local government must go hand in hand with greater local transparency and local accountability.
My own department has cut its corporate credit card spend by three-quarters since we placed it all online and has saved £400,000 a year from cutting trade union facility time. This openness will help drive council savings both big and small - and they all add up.
Today’s publication of the government’s response to the consultation on the Transparency Code sets out the intention to make it a statutory obligation for councils to also publish the following key information quarterly:
- expenditure exceeding £500
- details of transactions on Government Procurement Cards
- procurement information with a value that exceeds £5,000
In addition, councils must publish the following information annually:
- details about the land and assets they own
- details of all grants to voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations
- their organisation chart
- time and resources spent on trade union tasks and functions
- parking revenues and number of controlled parking spaces
- details of officer salaries over £50,000
- their constitution
- the pay multiple (the ratio between the highest paid salary and the median salary of the whole workforce)
Trade union facility time
Trade union facility time will cover the total number of union representatives in the local authority, the number who devote at least 50% of their time to union activity and which unions are represented. We will also require local authorities to combine basic metrics, such as full time equivalent (FTE) numbers for union representatives and average salary costs, to create and publish a simple proxy measure for their spending on unions as a proportion of the total pay bill. We will not require them to produce more robust estimates of spending on unions as the cost of surveying where staff time goes would be prohibitive.
Credit card payments
We will require local authorities to publish all expenditure on a Government Procurement Card (GPC). The GPC framework agreement already stipulates the provision of management information which, we believe, can then readily be collated into a publishable format. We will also recommend that local authorities publish expenditure on other credit cards where the information is already readily available in an electronic format.
We will require local authorities to publish details about the number of off/on-street parking spaces. We have reconsidered whether or not it is possible to go further and require publication of information on free parking spaces and feel that, at this time, the complexity of creating a precise definition means this is not viable.
If councils publish their data in open formats with open licences people will be able to use and reuse the data for many different purposes.
Local councils must now produce policy statements about staff pay, including senior and lower-paid staff.
The new publicity code for local councils in England provides guidance on the content, style, distribution and cost of local authority publicity. This guidance is currently going through Parliament to become a statutory obligation as part of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill.
The government is providing funding to cover the new burdens the proposed new transparency code places on local authorities.
The government wants to ensure that the proposed new transparency code is clear for local authorities to use. Interested partners have until 17 January 2014 to comment on the proposed new transparency code (annex B of the government’s response.)
The government wants to make sure that transparency reaches every part of the public sector. In the New Year, we intend to consult on broadening transparency to companies linked to councils and parishes with gross income or expenditure less than £25,000.
Twenty five Post Office branches across the country were today (11 December 2013) announced as winners of the Community Enterprise Fund competition for their outstanding proposals to support local people and businesses, and to tackle isolation among older people. The winners announced by Minister for Communities Stephen Williams will each receive up to £10,000 to make their idea a reality. Proposals include providing free wi-fi access and IT training, developing community apps and websites to inform people and businesses about local services, and a scheme to protect older and vulnerable people from winter freezes by keeping them in touch with neighbours, local services and charities.
Stephen Williams said:
The millions of people visiting branches to post cards and parcels at the moment remind us of the huge community role the post office plays, but this will not just stop in January, it goes on all year round. Post offices are becoming community hubs, getting local people and businesses involved with each other, learning new skills, and sharing information and today is a big step forward with 25 areas becoming even more active.
Christmas is a time when people can feel particularly isolated and the problem is most acute among the elderly so while all these schemes will benefit the whole community I also want to congratulate those schemes that are in particular aimed at helping the elderly.
Over 100 branches put forward suggestions for the competition. Originally the aim was to fund up to 20 schemes, but the quantity and quality of the proposals means that 25 have been successful. Funding from the Cabinet Office for proposals which address isolation enabled additional schemes to be supported. All nominations were for projects that provided a service, activity or support easily accessible and open to all.
The competition was launched in July asking the public to suggest projects their local post office could start up to benefit the community.
Paula Vennells, Post Office Chief Executive said:
The post office is at the heart of communities across the country and our sub-postmasters understand how they can make a real impact on their customers’ lives. The Community Enterprise Fund builds on this unique role, enabling 25 branches to provide additional services designed around the needs of local people and businesses, such as helping the elderly to access support during cold winters and giving people access to the internet and computer training.
Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd said:
Post offices have a special place in the community. So we welcome this opportunity to support great ideas that show how post offices can bring people together to tackle social problems like isolation.
In many places in England, especially in more rural areas, post offices already play a role in the community which goes way beyond offering the usual post office services such as government transactions and financial services. Over 90% of the population lives within 1 mile of a post office.
Around 18 million customers a week and third of all small businesses use a post office each week. 99.7% of people live within 3 miles of their nearest post office outlet with 93.1% within a mile.
The Post Office already provides 170 different services and products spanning financial services including savings, insurance, loans, mortgages and credit cards. It also offers telephony; foreign currency; travel insurance and mail services.