England & Wales

All Things England: the budget, local elections and a ‘war on wee’ campaign

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Finance

The big news this week is, of course, the Budget. The Chancellor opened with the remark that it would be ‘a budget for growth’ while the opposition said it was ‘sticking a plaster’ on a UK that needed surgery.

The key focus areas of the budget for local government include:

  • Cost of living
  • National debt reduction
  • Supporting growth
  • Removing the barriers to work
  • Childcare
  • Pensions

The Chancellor confirmed that the government is to launch 12 new “investment zones”, including eight in England, that will provide similar tax reliefs to freeports while focusing on sectors like technology, life sciences and advanced manufacturing. Councils will need to collaborate with research institutes or universities to develop bids.

The LGIU’s on-the-day budget briefing can be read here.

Our Chief Executive, Jonathan Carr-West said: “Overall this feels like a budget of a government that recognises the importance of local leadership but just can’t bear to let go.”

The LGIU will provide two further in-depth briefings on the detail of the budget, and what it means for local authorities, over the next three weeks.

Meanwhile, Croydon Council has now agreed a 15% council tax rise after warnings a budget deadlock would leave the town hall facing legal action and cost the authority £20m a month as bills could not be sent out.

Local elections

The Daily Telegraph reports this week that up to 1.7 million people eligible to vote in May’s local elections could be frozen out of the process because they fall foul of the new voter ID laws. Official figures show just 28,135 voters in England have signed up for a free Voter Authority Certificate more than halfway through a multi-million pound campaign to get people ready for the rule change. It means just 3% of those who currently lack the right ID to cast their vote are set to register for a new identification card by the deadline of 25 April.

The LGIU briefing on elections issues for local authorities is here  and a briefing on the new voter ID laws can be read here.

A recent LGIU briefing on young people’s attitudes and views on democracy can be read here.

Last week the LGIU launched its election support starting with personal safety. This week’s focus is on running elections.

 

Local elections 2023

Transport and infrastructure

The government has confirmed that HS2 will be delayed by another two years after soaring inflation added billions to the cost of transport infrastructure projects. Transport Secretary Mark Harper insisted he remains committed to Britain’s high-speed rail network scheme, but the budget constraints have cast further doubt over prospects for the rail project’s full implementation. Parts of the HS2 line between Birmingham, Crewe and Manchester will be “re-phased” by two years, meaning the line to Crewe may not be open until 2036, and Manchester not until 2043. Trains may now not run all the way to and from central London until years later than planned as the government “takes time to ensure we have an affordable and deliverable station design” at Euston.

Numerous newspapers also reported this week that a leaked Department for Transport briefing document, obtained by the Labour Party, has revealed that the government’s plans to delay the completion of HS2 in order to save costs could have the opposite effect. The document suggests that due to the delay, there will be “some impact on jobs and HS2 Ltd will need to consider how best to progress the various phases of the programme”, while “additional costs will be created by deferring expenditure on the programme”.

The government has also announced this week that planning and construction of the UK’s longest road tunnel is being pushed back by two years. Work on the Lower Thames Crossing project, linking Essex and Kent, was on course to begin in 2024 and be completed by 2029. However, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said a two-year delay would help meet “inflationary pressures”. Proposals for the new 14-mile road – of which 2.6 miles would be underground – were accepted by the Planning Inspectorate in November and a government-appointed panel of experts was due to scrutinise the project. Thurrock Council has opposed the project, claiming it would swallow up 11% of its green belt land, and accused National Highways of “not listening” to its concerns.

The Times reports that claims have been raised that traffic counters used to monitor the impact of low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) are failing to accurately record vehicles during heavy congestion. MetroCount, the manufacturer of the automatic roadside counters used by most councils to provide their data, says the counters are “not designed to work” in stop-start traffic and are recommended to be used in “free flowing conditions.”

Meanwhile, research by the County Councils Network (CCN) shows that 85% of local authorities are planning to reduce roads maintenance work next year. The CCN advised drivers to expect the number of potholes and road defects to grow unless extra cash is made available by government.

Environment

The Daily Telegraph reported this week that funding for cycling and walking schemes, which were championed by Boris Johnson when he was Prime Minister, has been slashed by two thirds. Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, said that £100m will be spent in this Parliament on projects such as cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs). However, it has now emerged that this marks a two thirds cut from the estimated £300m that had been earmarked. Also announced was an £800m cut to the overall £3.8bn Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy.

Environmental campaigners who sought official bathing water status for rivers across the country in an attempt to crack down on pollution have criticised the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs after all but one of the applications were rejected. Designation as an official bathing site obliges the Environment Agency to regularly test water quality. Campaigners say they have not been told why the decisions have been made.

One of those turned down is at Wallingford on the River Thames. In a statement South Oxfordshire District Council said it is “extremely disappointed” by the decision and is seeking clarification on the reasons behind it. Cornwall parish councillor Richard Newton-Chance said it is “one thing to say that you have not met the criteria, but it is pretty poor not to say which criteria you have not met”. “What we were trying to do here”, he said, “was to find another mechanism for putting pressure on the Environment Agency to actually test the water and do something about it.”

Devolution

The combined authorities of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands will receive new funding and retain 100% of business rates in their areas as part of devolution measures announced in the Budget. Both mayors will be responsible for “single pots” of funding that can be used as needed to boost growth.

Proposals for a new elected East Midlands mayor have failed to win overall public support in a devolution consultation. The process found that 45% of the 4,869 people surveyed did not want a directly-elected mayor for the region but 42% supported the idea. The remaining 13% said they “did not know” if they supported the plan. The £1.14bn devolution deal involves city and county councils in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

As part of the consultation, 53% of respondents agreed with the deal’s plans to invest money in new transport schemes, compared with 35% who disagreed. The survey also found 52% of those who took part were supportive of investment plans for education and skills, compared with 32% who were against those plans. The four local authorities must now accept the consultation results to allow amended proposals for the deal to be drawn up.

Economy and employment

New data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that the number of economically inactive adults in England and Wales – those who are not in work, not looking for work, or unable to work – is up from 36.7% of the population in 2011 to 39.4%, or 19.1 million adults, on census day in 2021.

The ONS found that coastal council areas had some of the highest rates of economic inactivity, with many such areas having older populations. East Lindsey in Lincolnshire, which includes Skegness and Mablethorpe, recorded the highest economic inactivity level, at 51.3%, due in part to 30.4% of the population being over 65. The five lowest rates of economic inactivity were all in London, topped by Wandsworth, with 26.4%.

Other data released by the ONS this week shows that UK wage growth slowed in the three months to January. Wage growth fell to 5.7% from a revised 6% in December, putting the average pay rise 3.2% below the rate of inflation. The report shows that pay growth in the private sector fell for the first time in a year, dipping from 7.3% to 7%, while public sector wages were up 4.8%. With inflation taken into account, the average salary fell by 2.4% in the three months to January compared to the same period last year.

Housing and planning

Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey, Crest Nicholson, Bellway and Redrow, the country’s five biggest house-builders, have agreed a deal with Housing Secretary, Michael Gove, that will see the firms accept Mr Gove’s proposed “developed remediation contract”, tasking them with identifying and remediating any buildings they have constructed that are considered to be unsafe “as soon as reasonably practicable”.

However, the Housing Secretary has said that 11 housebuilding firms have not yet signed the remediation contract.  Mr Gove said the Government will next week “publish key features of our new ‘responsible actors’ scheme”, with those not joining unable to “commence new developments in England or receive building control approval for work that is already underway”.

An LGIU briefing on second homes and holiday lets will be published later this month.

The latest LGIU housing and planning update will be published on Monday.

Children and education

Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) president Evelyn Forde, speaking at the union’s annual conference this week, warned that the “deplorable” state of children’s support services is having a “profound impact” on the wellbeing of pupils. She condemned the government for the erosion of children’s support services over the past decade. The intervention comes as a recent ASCL survey of 1,120 headteachers and principals in state schools and colleges across England Wales and Northern Ireland found that 99% believe children’s mental health services are inadequate and 96% say children’s social care services are inadequate.

At the same time the LGIU published a briefing on the government’s new Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Improvement Plan, which can be read here.

Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants

The Royal Borough of Greenwich, backed by 21 other London boroughs, has written to Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, to call for major changes in the government’s policies around the use of hotels to house asylum seekers – with hotels having been targeted by far-right protestors and asylum seekers facing frequent disruption as they are moved from place to place. Greenwich leader Cllr Anthony Okereke says it is “appalling that people who have spent months and sometimes years rebuilding their lives, studying, volunteering and establishing community links, are now being removed and placed miles away from their new homes against their wishes”.

The government has been forced to find an extra £2bn to fund hotel rooms for asylum seekers, admitting there is no deadline to end their use. The number of migrants being housed in hotels has passed 50,000 for the first time, up from just 2,600 in March 2020. Daily Telegraph analysis also shows there are now asylum hotels in 90% of England’s 48 counties.

The Sunday Times and the Observer report that the government’s plan to reduce the number of refugees crossing the Channel in small boats will effectively reverse a ban on child detention that was introduced by the coalition government almost a decade ago. The Illegal Migration Bill, which will make all such asylum claims inadmissible, includes powers that effectively reintroduce routine child and family detention. It even allows the deportation of unaccompanied children if it is deemed to be safe in their country of origin, according to the Observer. The bill received its second reading this week.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has revised its long-term net migration projections – and has predicted that net migration will reach around 245,000 a year from 2026/27 onwards, almost double its last projection, published last year. The OBR said the revision was down to “significantly higher” levels of immigration from outside the EU since Brexit. Meanwhile, the government has added construction-related roles such as bricklayers, carpenters and roofers to the “Shortage Occupation List” to help firms tackle staff shortages with lower-paid foreign workers.

The latest LGIU briefing on refugees and asylum seekers can be read here.

Health and social care

The latest monthly round up of health and social care issues can be read here.

Resilience and emergency planning

This week we published a new briefing on the new UK Resilience Framework.

Other news

Cheltenham Borough Council is taking steps to tackle the problem of public urination at this week’s Cheltenham Festival – with a “war on wee” campaign seeing residents and local businesses offered access to special hydrophobic paint – intended to repel liquids back towards their source. Cllr Max Wilkinson said: “This year we’ve offered hydrophobic paint to businesses and residents to paint on their properties. I’m sure the prospect of wet trousers will make people think twice, even if they think they won’t get caught and fined.”

Meanwhile, West Oxfordshire District Council has revealed that it has had to “take safety precautions” for a planning hearing into TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson’s appeal over his plans for an extension to the car park at his Diddly Squat farm, near Chipping Norton. The council said the extra measures were approved “following a number of threats and abuse directed at councillors and local people since the airing of season two of Clarkson’s Farm. This has included death threats and as a result we have had to consider a range of safety measures to protect councillors, staff and residents.”

 



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