NALC predicts that further tightening in government funding to principal authorities will see local councils doing more so leading to increases in their small share of council tax (precept).
While there is some encouraging news from the budget on social care funding for principal councils, it does mask that these same councils will be continuing to cut essential discretionary services for communities and putting pressure on local councils to take on these services. This causes local councils to increase their precept charges on communities for services in important areas like health and well-being, local economic development, community transport and infrastructure, and the environment.
This was a challenging Spring Budget 2017 from a government with little room to manoeuvre and facing huge challenges. Devolution to communities and local neighbourhood action needs to be seen as part of the solution to these problems and renewed efforts to empower and strengthen local democracy are now a must and vital to the future delivery of public services and successful decentralisation.
With austerity set to continue, with the government dominated by Brexit and with a growing sense of lack of people power, there has never been a more urgent need for communities to come together and help lead the change in local people’s lives.
We call on the government to give more funding for neighbourhood planning. Local councils play an important role in communities especially in neighbourhood planning. It is local councils that are at the heart of and driving forward the neighbourhood planning revolution and making it such a success story; with around 90% of the 2000 communities developing a neighbourhood plan being led by England’s most local level of democracy. In these areas 10% more house building is happening.
While the Local Government Finance Bill provides a new discretionary business rates relief on public toilets owned and run by local authorities. This does not go far enough as it only gives principal councils a discretionary power to grant rate relief. Given the current financial climate we do not expect principal councils to use this power, hence we want government to go further and extend mandatory relief to public toilets owned or managed by local councils.
So far the government has failed to recognise the important role that local councils play in local economic development and so have not included this tier of local government within its business rates policies. NALC calls on the government to think again on this matter and look to include the provision for local councils to receive a share of these rates while not increasing their overall costs to hard-pressed local businesses. We suggest the setting up of pilots involving some town councils to see the viability of this.
We demand that the government keeps its promises on maintaining its policy of a proportion of Community Infrastructure Levy (monies from house-building and development) being allocated to neighbourhood groups. At the moment 25% of the levy goes to neighbourhood planning areas, while 15% goes to communities without these plans.
Last year taught us many things politically but without doubt there is a growing sense of distance between local communities and those in power. One of the most effective ways to change this situation is by giving a greater voice to local people and communities. And the one of the best ways of doing this is by setting up and creating new local councils in neighbourhoods up and down the country. We call on the Treasury and the department of Communities and Local Government to show support by offering financial assistance to help communities change the position of this country being one of the most centralised in the western world.
Finally if we are asking more of local councils because of austerity, localism and devolution then NALC calls on new investment in an efficiency programme to support reform and local council sector-led improvement.
Cllr Sue Baxter, chairman of NALC, said: “We demand that the government responds to the changing landscape in public service delivery by offering local councils fairer funding and freedoms to raise the resources they need to invest in local services and facilities without unnecessary Government intervention. The last-ever spring Budget provided an opportunity to consider the possibility of a more radical approach to the operation of the UK’s public finances, with communities and local people at the heart of it but sadly this was a missed opportunity.”