Councillors want more from business rates

“Local Government Association chairman Lord Porter this week confirmed the body’s new hardline approach to business rates retention, publicly rejecting any imposition of new duties from central government.

Last week, Room151 revealed a shift in approach by the LGA towards a stronger rejection of the idea that business rates retention should be accompanied by new service obligations for councils.

Speaking to the LGA annual conference, Lord Porter said that councils should expect to be rewarded for their success in slashing budgets during the recent period of austerity.

He said: “Councils can no longer be expected to run our local services on a shoestring. We must shout from the roof tops for local government to be put back on a sustainable financial footing.

“We’ve protected government for a long time by making sure all the cuts thrown our way were implemented in a way that shielded our residents as much as possible.

“But if austerity is coming to an end, then, as we were in the front of the queue when it started, we must also be at the front of the queue for more money when it ends . …”

http://www.room151.co.uk/funding/lord-porter-we-dont-want-any-new-duties-for-business-rates-retention/

“Golden Triangle” and “Greater Exeter Strategic Partnership” – anyone had an update?

The “Golden Triangle LEP” comprising of Exeter, Plymouth and Torbay appears to have disappeared into a Bermuda Triangle – see here for some not-so-encouraging old information on it:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2016/12/11/politics-south-west-pigs-ears-economy-with-the-truth-and-foxes/

However, word reaches Owl that someone, somewhere, has dredged it up from the deep again and it might be resurfacing some time later this month. Watch this very empty space.

As for the “Greater Exeter Strategic Plan”, in which East Devon is a partner, now that the initial “consultation” has ended, that seems to have returned to the bowels of the basement of Exeter City Council until “early 2018” (maybe):

https://www.gesp.org.uk/consultations/stage-2-draft-greater-exeter-strategic-plan-pending/

The initial consultation was on “Issues”. There is now an issue on if/when the issues feedback turns up.

LEP and value for money

Further to the two posts below, the National Audit Office report on combined authorities can be found here:

Click to access Progress-in-setting-up-combined-authorities.pdf

and its summary is here:

Click to access Progress-in-setting-up-combined-authorities-Summary.pdf

Perhaps the most significant paragraph for us is this one:

“5. However, evidence that investment, decision-making and oversight at this level is linked to improved local economic outcomes is mixed and inconclusive. Combined authorities themselves often assume in their plans that there is a strong link between investment in transport and economic growth, for example. Despite this, evidence on the additional value that governance at this level can bring to economic growth is mixed, and combined authorities’ administrative boundaries do not necessarily match functional economic areas, or the existing boundaries of local enterprise partnerships. We assessed combined authorities’ draft monitoring and evaluation plans, and found that while they are working to link spending with outcomes and impact, they vary in quality, and measures tend to vary depending on data already available.”

Elsewhere, they also note:
“Also not much coincidence in boundaries between combined authorities and LEPs. EG Bristol combined authority and “West of England LEP”.

They might well have added the lack of symmetry between Somerset ( where most LEP money is going to Hinkley C) and Devon. Of the 48 “projects” listed on their website:

21 projects are transport-related
8 are related to Hinkley C
Only 3 projects might benefit the Exeter area specifically (the “Growth Hub” and its extension, Science Park completed in 2016, Met Office campus which as yet has no funding)

LEP – who will be to blame if things go pear-shaped?

Following on from the article below (which basically says metro-mayors/combined authorities/LEPs don’t work), Owl has a question:

If, as it appears, our LEP wants to take credit for any and all good that arises in Devon and Somerset for whatever reason (eg economic growth, Hinkley C) will it be taking the blame if it all goes horribly wrong – and would our local authorities accept their share of blame for going along with a dangerously flawed model where, not only does the Emperor have no clothes, the local authorities bought the clothes the Emperor doesn’t have?

Final big nail in Heart of the Southwest Local Enterprise Partnership coffin?

The type of organisation detailed here is exactly how our LEP is structured. Surely, now someone, somewhere will pull the plug on it?

“The six mayor-led combined authorities risk becoming “a curiosity of history” as there is little evidence to back their assumption that devolution will improve local economies.

That is among findings by the National Audit Office in a report Progress in Setting Up Combined Authorities.

Parliament’s spending watchdog said the six – Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and West of England – could have been joined by other areas but these had “been unable to bring local authorities together to establish combined authorities”.

The NAO said there was “a logic to establishing strategic bodies designed to function across conurbations and sub-regional areas, and there is a clear purpose to establishing combined authorities especially in metropolitan areas, as economies and transport networks operate at a scale greater than individual local authority areas”.

Most combined authority proposals were put to the government on the basis that they would deliver more rapid economic growth by spending money and exercising powers locally.

But the NAO noted the combined authorities were “inherently complex structures” and evidence that investment, decision-making and oversight at this level was linked to improved local economic results was “mixed and inconclusive”.

It said combined authorities “often assume in their plans that there is a strong link between investment in transport and economic growth, for example”, but evidence on the additional value that governance at this level can bring to economic growth is mixed, the NAO said.

It was also concerned that combined authorities’ administrative boundaries do not necessarily match functional economic areas, or the existing boundaries of local enterprise partnerships.

“We assessed combined authorities’ draft monitoring and evaluation plans, and found that while they are working to link spending with outcomes and impact, they vary in quality, and measures tend to vary depending on data already available,” the report said.

Despite this, the combined authorities’ economic regeneration role “would become more pressing” if Brexit leads to reductions in regional funding at present received from the European Union.

Combined authorities “are generally in areas which receive the most EU funding”, it noted.

NAO head Amyas Morse said: “For combined authorities to deliver real progress and not just be another ‘curiosity of history’ like other regional structures before them, they will need to demonstrate that they can both drive economic growth and also contribute to public sector reform.”

The County Councils Network strongly opposed the government’s requirement for elected mayors to lead combined authorities – and only Cambridgeshire and Peterborough involves a county council.

CCN director Simon Edwards, said: “This report from the NAO highlights many of the concerns the majority of CCN members raised over the prospect of mayoral combined authorities in county areas: an added layer of bureaucracy in an already complex landscape, a lack of co-terminosity with key public sector partners, and questions over whether this format would lead to economic growth in rural areas.”

http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2017/07/combined-authorities-risk-becoming-curiosity-history

Council employs lawyers to investigate who leaked report – when councillor already said he leaked it!

“South Ribble Borough Council has held an external investigation into a leak even though an opposition councillor admitted to being the culprit.

It appointed law firm Weightmans to investigate how a confidential report into a long running scandal around its taxi licensing service and child safeguarding ended up in the now-defunct New Day newspaper.

The report had been written by another law firm Wilkin Chapman, and had a limited circulation in the council.

After it was published the council called in the police, who concluded that no criminality had occurred. …”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=31737%3Acouncil-publishes-outcome-of-investigation-into-leaked-report&catid=59&Itemid=27

DUP funding secrecy to be stopped – but not for massive Brexit loan

Owl says: Two parties working together, both using dirty money to buy votes and manipulate power – are East Devon Tory voters happy with this?

“When the law over political donations was overhauled (or rather, introduced – as it had previously been pretty much a secret free-for-all), an exception was made for Northern Ireland. The requirements for transparency of donations in the rest of the UK* was not applied to Northern Ireland as, still fresh from its years of bloody violence, it was felt by many that forcing political donors to be named was not yet appropriate.

That secrecy has, however, come under recent sustained criticism as it has opened up a loophole for secret donations to impact not only elections in Northern Ireland but also UK-wide contests. In particular, a secret £435,000 donation to the DUP went on campaigning in favour of Brexit across the whole UK.

Now, however, the government has announced that donations in Northern Ireland will be subject to the same transparency rules as in the rest of the UK.

One catch – up until now, the source of large secret donations has still had to be recorded even if not published. The government’s plan is for those records to remain secret despite the Electoral Commission’s calls for transparency over donations made in recent years too. So the full story of that £435,000 for the Brexit referendum may never be known.

* This transparency is not perfect, as continuing disputes over unincorporated associations in particular demonstrates, but it is pretty widespread.”

https://www.markpack.org.uk/150676/northern-ireland-political-donations-transparency/

Company Chairman stumps up cash when shareholders object to political donation

“After a shareholder revolt, the chairman of a City firm which made £25,000 worth of donations to Conservative candidates has agreed to reimburse the firm for the money given:

The chairman of City trading outfit NEX is paying back the £25,000 of shareholders funds the company donated to Tory election candidates in an attempt to keep out Remain backing Liberal Democrat MPs, including Sir Vince Cable.

Charles Gregson said he would refund the money from his own pocket following consultations with investors and governance groups…

NEX, run by former Tory Party Treasurer Michael Spencer, targeted seats where sitting Tories enjoyed narrow majorities over Liberal Democrat challengers, including Twickenham, which Sir Vince ultimately won back from the sitting Conservative MP Tania Mathias…

Pirc, which advises investors with billions of pounds under management, said it believed this to be an inappropriate use of shareholders cash in a critical report issued ahead of the company’s AGM.

[The Independent]

https://www.markpack.org.uk/150680/nex-conservative-party-donations/