A report by a committee of MPs said that the Department for Communities and Local Government could not be sure that local authorities were achieving value for money with their funding, particularly with regard to 'targeted' grants that were not monitored. It said that, although the Department had placed increasing onus on residents and councillors to scrutinize local authority decisions, there was a risk that the quality and accessibility of data was insufficient, or that councillors might not have the skills or time to fulfil the role. The report said that there needed to be clear systems and rules in place to ensure the transparency and accountability of money spent by cross-border and multi-agency organizations, such as local enterprise partnerships and health and wellbeing boards. The report made a range of recommendations.
Source: Local Government Funding: Assurance to Parliament, Thirteenth Report (Session 201415), HC 456, House of Commons Public Accounts Select Committee, TSO
A report examined how local councils in Scotland could adequately consider social and community risks when making cuts to services, considered barriers to better risk assessment and how to overcome these, and examined opportunities to promote risk assessment through new policies on joint working.
Source: Darinka Asenova and Bill Stein, Assessing the Social and Community Risks of Council Spending Cuts in Scotland, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
A study examined opinion and perceptions of the risk landscape facing local government as they made policy and spending decisions in response to the reductions in budgets under austerity. The study looked at key issues from three perspectives: chief executives and board level directors within local government; risk managers; and the general public.
Source: New World of Risk: Change for good, Zurich Municipal
An article examined the drivers of the development of strategic commissioning in the United Kingdom. It said that differences between government departments had allowed scope for local variations, which were exploited by local government, enabling greater innovation than would have otherwise been possible. It discussed local resistance to central government agendas, and the overall implications for public services in the context of fiscal austerity.
Source: Tony Bovaird, Ian Briggs, and Martin Willis, 'Strategic commissioning in the UK: service improvement cycle or just going round in circles?', Local Government Studies, Volume 40 Issue 4
An audit report said that local government funding had been changed in 2010 to give local authorities greater control over spending, and the government now had less information on how funds were being spent. It said that tensions remained where government departments continued to specify policy objectives for grants, despite local priorities now taking precedence for how funding could be spent. In addition, public funding sometimes came through multi-agency, cross local border organizations that did not fit easily with government's reliance on the system of local accountability (such as with local enterprise partnerships). The report recommended that departments should assess whether continuing to fund local authorities through un-ringfenced targeted grants was appropriate in the context of a locally-defined approach to achieving value for money.
Source: Local Government Funding: Assurance to Parliament, HC 174 (Session 201415), National Audit Office, TSO
The government responded to a report by a committee of MPs on local government procurement.
Source: Government Response to House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee's Sixth Report of Session 2013-14, Cm 8888, Department for Communities and Local Government, TSO
The government began consultation on proposals to make provisions that would affect the new local audit arrangements, following the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014. The consultation would close on 18 July 2014.
Source: Local Audit, Department for Communities and Local Government
Links: Consultation document
A report provided a snapshot of the financial planning of local authorities for the rest of the existing Parliament, based on a survey of authorities. It said that, under the existing system, some councils were running out of efficiency measures through which to save costs, half of all respondent councils were planning to use reserves, and councils were looking at the commercialization of activities. The report concluded that many local authorities were already working closely together and with other local partners to manage demand and agree joint objectives, including such activities as increasing integration of health and social care services, co-location, and Troubled Families partnerships, and said that the government could aid this by easing the budgetary pressures.
Source: Under Pressure: How councils are planning for future cuts, Local Government Association
The government published a summary of responses, and its own response, to a consultation on proposals to change the general consents issued under section 25 of the Local Government Act 1988. A new consent would now allow councils to dispose of vacant housing land to non-registered providers at less than market value. An amendment to consent B would remove the requirement that a property should be in need of renovation before disposal to a registered provider at less than market value. It would also remove the cap that limited the number of properties that could be disposed of in this way.
Source: Consultation on the General Consents Issued under Section 25 of the Local Government Act 1988: Summary of responses and government response, Department for Communities and Local Government
A report considered the roles of central government, local authorities, and Local Enterprise Partnerships in promoting local growth. It said that councils should take the lead to promote local sustainable growth, plan for the long-term, and invest in infrastructure, and that central government should give local councils greater influence over local finance.
Source: Local Roots to Growth, Policy Report 2, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers
An article examined local fiscal autonomy as an indicator of central-local relations. It said that the capping of council tax increases had proved to be one of the most contentious of all of the constraints placed on local authorities by central government. The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales had recently moved away from capping in favour of a more consensual approach: this reflected the difference in scale and nature of their policy communities, and appeared to have been at least as successful in controlling increases in local taxes as the more directive, top-down strategy favoured by policy-makers in England. The coalition government's proposals to promote local referenda as the means of controlling council tax levels represented a potentially important new, but as yet unproven, approach.
Source: Robert Hay and Steve Martin, 'Controlling local government spending: the implementation and impact of capping council taxes', Local Government Studies, Volume 40 Issue 2
A study examined alternatives to the system of council tax in England. It said that the existing system was now discredited and suggested that a progressive property value tax would reduce the size of median gross bills by almost £280 a year. The report suggested consideration of a new hybrid tax, based on property value and household income.
Source: Chris Leishman, Glen Bramley, Mark Stephens, David Watkins, and Gillian Young, After the Council Tax: Impacts of property tax reform on people, places and house prices, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
A report by a committee of MPs said that local authorities were working towards changing their procurement methods to achieve savings, but the work was progressing slowly. It called for a range of actions, including investment in staff development, greater collaboration between councils, more regard for social value and supporting small and local business, more appropriate use of the European Union procurement rules, and better management of outsourced contracts.
Source: Local Government Procurement, Sixth Report (Session 201314), HC 712, House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee, TSO
A report by a committee of MPs said that a significant number of local council tax support schemes did not meet all of the Department for Communities and Local Government's objectives, and particularly the objective of protecting vulnerable people. It said that the Department did not fully understand the impacts of localizing council tax support and the broader welfare reforms on the demand for local services, and recommended that the Department should now carry out an assessment. It said that some local authorities had introduced council tax support schemes in a way that disincentivized work. The committee also raised concerns at the lack of planning for data sharing between universal credit and council tax support schemes.
Source: Council Tax Support, Forty-eighth Report (Session 201314), HC 943, House of Commons Public Accounts Select Committee, TSO
The government began consultation on proposals to simplify the procedure for setting road tolls on local statutory tolled undertakings in the United Kingdom, such as bridges, tunnels, lifts, and ferry crossings. The consultation would close on 10 April 2014.
Source: Consultation: Simplifying the process for revising tolls at local tolled crossings, Department for Transport
Links: Consultation document
A report examined the impact of welfare reforms on local government and housing associations in England, and the early indicators regarding the effectiveness and future challenges of the changes. It said that organizations had been proactive in addressing the impact, although some local authorities had not looked at the full range of available options and there was scope for more partnership working. The report said the full impact of the reforms was yet to be felt but there were early signs for concern, such as rising rent and council tax arrears and increasing homelessness. The effect of removing the spare room subsidy was not yet clear.
Source: Reaping the Benefits? First impressions of the impact of welfare reform, Grant Thornton
A briefing report examined changes in the centrally managed spending of local authorities, on items such as costs for councillors, statutory functions, treasury management, audit and inspection, human resources and information technology provision, premises, transport, and general supplies.
Source: Councils' Centrally Managed Spending: Using data from the Value for Money Profiles, February 2014, Audit Commission
A report examined the impact of the United Kingdom government's welfare reforms in local authority areas in Wales, updating and extending earlier work on the effects at the household and individual level. It said that the changes were estimated to reduce annual benefit and tax credit entitlements in 2015-16 by around £900 million. Around half of this loss was said to be due to the way benefits and tax credits would be uprated. Other large losses were attributed to personal independence payments and the time limiting of employment and support allowance. Neath Port Talbot, Blaenau Gwent, and Merthyr Tydfil were the areas estimated to be hardest hit by the reforms. The findings would inform policy, and ongoing research would aim to quantify the distributional impact up to and including the 2014 budget.
Source: Analysing the Impact of the UK Government's Welfare Reforms in Wales – Stage 3 Analysis Part 2: Impacts in local authority areas, Welsh Government
A report by the audit office for Wales examined the response of local councils to the financial pressures they faced following cuts in budgets and increased demand for services. The report examined the effectiveness of their financial planning, approaches to financial decision making, and actions to minimise the impact of the cuts. It noted that there were many areas of good practice, but also areas where councils needed to improve. In particular, it noted concern about: the longer term implications of the budget pressures; the lack, in some cases, of longer term planning; and use of financial planning.
Source: Meeting the Financial Challenges Facing Local Government in Wales, Wales Audit Office
The government responded to a report by a committee of MPs on community budgets.
Source: Government response to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee Report: Community budgets, Cm 8794, House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee, TSO
The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 was given Royal assent. The Act provided for the abolition of the Audit Commission for local authorities and the National Health Service in England; changes to the accounting rules, audit procedures, reporting, and publicity requirements for various local and other public authorities; and council tax referendums.
Source: Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, Department for Communities and Local Government, TSO
A report examined the council tax support schemes that local authorities in England adopted following abolition of council tax benefit. It discussed authorities' responses, the impact on households, and evidence from Citizens Advice data on the early impacts.
Source: Stuart Adam, James Browne, William Jeffs, and Robert Joyce, Council Tax Support Schemes in England: What did local authorities choose, and with what effects?, Institute for Fiscal Studies
A report presented articles providing expert views on a range of ways in which local authorities in the United Kingdom could improve health and reduce health inequalities. Subjects covered by the contributions included: living wage (Kate Pickett); early childhood education (Edward Melhuish); speed limits (Danny Dorling); health-related 'worklessness' (Clare Bambra); 'age-friendly' communities (Hal Kendig and Chris Phillipson); participatory budgeting (Kwame McKenzie); employment conditions of public sector workers (James Nazroo); adult and further education (Tarani Chandola and Andrew Jenkins); and policy evaluation and cost effectiveness (Alan Maynard).
Source: ï¿½If You Could Do One Thing...ï¿½: Nine local actions to reduce health inequalities, British Academy