NALC's chairman, Cllr Sue Baxter, held her latest meeting with Luke Hall MP, minister for regional growth and local government, on 19 May, with remote meetings and standards top of the agenda.
Here are a few key points:
- Sue thanked the minister for his support in getting the Toilets Act over the line, but that it was now imperative local councils received their backdated business rates from billing authorities as soon as possible and without significant delay; the minister said he had written to billing authorities and asked for NALC to keep him updated and was keen to understand more generally where funding mechanisms through principal councils were not working.
- As you would expect, Sue expressed NALC's strong disappointment about remote meetings and explained the issues local councils now face, urging the Government to legislate now; the minister acknowledged NALC's position and assured us the sector had been heard and he is supportive of councils having the flexibility, but defended the Government’s approach and urged local Councils to respond to the call for evidence.
- Sue stressed the importance of having an effective standards regime and the problems the current weaknesses in the system cause, pointing out it was nearly three months since the minister promised the Government would respond to the report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, adding the response should also include proposals to extend the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to local councils; unfortunately, the minister didn’t commit to a date when the response would be published and highlighted social media and suspension of councillors without allowances as particularly contentious areas being considered. However, he stated he was keen to work closely with NALC when the response is published, including holding joint events to hear feedback, especially on thorny issues.
- Sue welcomed the thrust of the Queen’s Speech but stressed proposals to create a stronger, healthier and more prosperous nation must ensure local councils are empowered to support localities, and the previous commitments to do this and create new councils would form part of the Levelling Up White Paper; the minister responded that there was likely to be a section in the white paper on devolution that would include local leadership, creation of new councils and other reforms.
- And lastly, Sue pressed for the Government to invest in building the capacity and capability of local councils, setting out work by NALC and county associations on training and development plus joint work with the Local Government Association; the minister was very open to this idea and would welcome proposals.
This article is an extract from NALC's CHIEF EXECUTIVE'S BULLETIN Friday, 21st May 2021