England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

All things England: a weekly roundup of local government policy

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Levelling up and devolution

Tory backbench rebels have won the day in seeking amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, with the moratorium on the construction of onshore wind farms to be lifted and housebuilding targets dropped. See for our latest Parliamentary update.

The government has also announced this week the release of the long delayed £2.6bn UK Shared Prosperity Fund that will deliver levelling up projects across the country.

This week has also seen the launch of Gordon Brown’s report, ‘A New Britain’, that proposes constitutional changes aimed at delivering greater devolution of powers across the UK.

Fourthly, empowerment of our towns, cities and regions.

To enhance our democracy and to improve our economy we must empower towns, cities and regions and nations so that they can make decisions not just about their social priorities but about their economic renewal closer to home.

Across England, we recommend that every town and city is given the powers needed to draw together their own economic and social plan and take more control of their economic future.

We, of course, cannot disagree with the sentiment, but without new forms of council finance, promises (that every opposition party has made since forever) of meaningful shifts of power may be a bit hollow. However, the proposal that grabbed the headlines was the recommendation that the House of Lords should be replaced by a democratic chamber consisting of representatives of the English regions and the devolved nations. An LGIU briefing on the report will be published next month.

The government has offered a devolution deal to Cornwall that would see up to £360m of funding being devolved to the county over the next 30 years. The deal is dependent, of course, on the establishment of an elected mayor, and public consultation on this will start next week.

Social care

On his return from the jungle and having the party whip removed, Matt Hancock has announced that he will not be standing for re-election in 2024. He has also angered many in the social care sector with the claim, in his new book, that the majority of Covid cases in care homes was the result of transmission from care workers rather than from discharged hospital patients.

Read the latest Health, social care and public health monthly briefing.

Finance

We are publishing two briefings next week drilling down into the detail of the Autumn Statement. One will be examining the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts and the other will be looking at the implications of the budget for local economic development and devolution.

Housing and homelessness

As the cost of living crisis bites, the latest data on the housing situation of Ukrainian refugees has revealed that an increasing number of hosts are withdrawing from the scheme as their six month commitments to provide accommodation come to an end. Over 2000 Ukrainian families with children and 900 individuals are now officially homeless and pressure is mounting on the government to increase the funding available for hosts as energy bills rise.

There are also reports this week of rising rents in the private sector, with warnings from homelessness campaigners that this will lead to an increase in homelessness figures. The Public Accounts Committee has also warned this week that the Affordable Homes Programme is missing its targets, set in 2016 and 2021, by some 32,000 homes.

Schools and young people

The Schools Bill has been dropped by the government due to the reprioritisation of parliamentary time. Read our latest briefing on Education recovery after Covid lockdowns.

As the cost of living crisis continues to push more families into food poverty, this week saw Westminster become the fifth London council to extend free school meals to all primary school pupils.

Our youth roundup published this week has additional information on both of these topics and more.

Environment

COP15, the conference on biodiversity, begins next week as the World Wildlife Foundation reports that almost 70% of animal populations have been wiped out over the past 50 years. There is hope that the conference will result in international agreement on actions to protect endangered species and promote biodiversity across the globe.

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, has highlighted, in his annual report, the continuing problems caused by air pollution and has called on the government for more research into indoor air pollution.

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Other news

So England have made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup, overcoming Senegal, and are facing the current world champions, France, on Saturday. It was pleasing to note that the team are still ‘taking the knee’ before each game. Only the home nations, England and Wales, have been making the gesture at this World Cup. Some might say that gestures, without action, are meaningless but gestures are important when the whole world is watching.



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