As we continue to emerge from lockdown measures and deal with local measures and the short and long term economic impact of Covid-19, local authorities will need to re-assess how services will be delivered for years to come.
All is not healthy with Social Care, nor will it get better
Councils responsible for social care will now be able to levy a social care ‘precept’ of up to 2% on council tax. We are told that if councils make full use of the levy, it could raise up to £2bn a year by 2019 to 2020. The Government will also increase the Better Care Fund, in pursuit of the health and social care integration agenda. However, the precept is discretionary and not all councils will be willing, or able, to implement it. For some, the long-term reduction in revenue support grant will imperil their viability, so we do not expect this to be the final resting place for the area of services where councils most struggle to control demand.
Business rates autonomy
Uniform business rates will go, so that, by the end of the current Parliament, councils will be retaining 100% of business rates revenues. Councils will also have the power to cut business rates and make their area more attractive to businesses. In addition, combined authorities with elected mayors will have additional powers to raise business rates provided they fund specific infrastructure projects supported by the local business community. This means that every council will have to have its own economic development plan, in which it will be well advised to collaborate across the tiers and with its neighbours, if the full benefits of growth are to be realised. That willingness to work together is still not evident everywhere.
Selling off capital assets - is that really sensible?
The announcement by the Chancellor that councils will be able to keep 100% of their capital receipts (excluding Right-to-Buy properties) may act as the incentive that the Chancellor wants for councils to release land to provide new housing or regeneration. However the capital receipts from such asset disposals will have to be used to fund qualifying ‘reform projects’. Further details from the DCLG will be released in December, which councils will need to consider first. Councils are, however, also likely to consider that the retention of assets in order to generate revenue streams may actually be a better option for safeguarding their longer-term viability, possibly in partnership with suitable partners, both in the social housing and the private sectors. We are currently very active in this area, and we will be advising how the Government’s 100% capital receipts policy can be further enhanced in the context of such arrangements.
Devolution by evolution
With further devolution of Government functions announced for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, and the recent deals in Liverpool and the West Midlands, we see more combined authorities sweeping across England and more powers being transferred – all to be exercised by an elected mayor holding the loop between participating councils and local LEPs. With new fundraising powers for them, we should not underestimate the power of regional government through the back door, and the possible demise of two-tier local government at a county/district level. The revolution goes on, spurred by Comrade George.
The Chancellor plans to phase out that great institution – the LEA, but this will have consequences for those councils that still maintain good relationships with their local schools. How will they form constructive relationships with academies and MATs, working together in delivering local social welfare? And will there be more spin-outs of education support services? If so, we have advised on a number of models and we know what has worked so far. It may be too late to do much with what remains in-house, so the way forward is to create new collaborative partnerships.
Knees bent arms stretched
Councils will have to do some interesting manoeuvring to respond to the latest challenges that face them. Whilst it is good that we have a pothole fund to help keep local traffic flowing, the gap in funding for social care is what will keep many awake in the next year, including those individuals and families who need support. The collaboration required to address this will require letting go of vested positions and a real desire to harness all resources, in a spirit of generosity in very difficult circumstances. That, for us, is at the crux of what local government has to mould for it to have a future that we all so believe in.
For further information
The Government first announced plans for a shared ownership right to buy in October 2019. At the time the sector raised concerns about the impact the plans would have on housing associations ability to borrow. An election and a pandemic later the Government announced, during the CIH Housing Festival last week, the return of the right to shared ownership as part of its Affordable Homes Programme (AHP).
Two final pieces of the possession jigsaw have been published on 15 September 2020. Mr Justice Knowles’ working group on possession proceedings has issued its guidance on the “overall arrangements” for possession proceedings.
One change proposed by the Building Safety Bill is the introduction of a duty holder regime, which will see statutory responsibility for the safety of higher risk buildings placed on key individuals
Throughout this pandemic, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been publishing various “Statements on Coronavirus” (Statements) which provide guidance on consumer rights during this time.
A recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the UK means new measures are being put in place in an effort to reduce the risk of a second wave. Whilst the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt, it is important to remain focused on the sector’s road to recovery.
Sometimes half an hour at a conference gives you the reality that has been staring you in the face all along. That was my experience watching “Change is on the Horizon”
Following our recent e-briefing on Possession Notices, Helen Tucker and Emilie Pownall from our housing litigation team discuss the impact of the changes on social landlords.
Not only has the possession stay been extended until 20 September, the notice periods to be given to tenants has been extended in certain circumstances with some important exceptions.
The Court has confirmed that a party cannot withhold its consent in order to re-write the original bargain.
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