“Dominic Raab has been appointed foreign secretary and first secretary of state.
First secretary of state is a title sometimes given to a minister by the PM. Damian Green was the last person to hold the post. It means Dominic Raab, who was Brexit secretary until he resigned at the end of last year because he was opposed to the withdrawal agreement, is effectively deputy prime minister (unless Boris Johnson surprises us all and appoints an actual deputy prime minister). …”
“The Communities Secretary, James Brokenshire, has set out the circumstances in which he would be prepared to issue a formal invitation to councils under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 to submit proposals for the establishment of new unitary councils.
In what could be one of his last acts as Secretary of State, with the prospect of Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister and choosing a Cabinet, Brokenshire said in a written ministerial statement yesterday that he would also set out how he intended to assess any unitary proposals councils make in response; and the Government’s continued approach to any proposals two or more district councils may make to merge in order to form a new larger district council.
The Secretary of State said: “Locally-led changes to the structure of local government, whether in the form of unitarisation or district mergers, can – with local support – be an appropriate means of ensuring more sustainable local government and local service delivery, enhanced local accountability, and empowered local communities. This statement …. continues the Government’s commitment to supporting those councils that wish to combine, to serve their communities better and will consider unitarisation and mergers between councils when locally requested.
“However, I recognise that unitarisation may not be appropriate everywhere. I also recognise that it is essential that any local government restructuring should be on the basis of locally led proposals and should not involve top-down Whitehall solutions being imposed on areas. The Government does not support top-down unitary restructuring. This has been the Government’s consistent approach since 2010.”
The Secretary of State said he also wanted to provide further clarity for those councils who might consider the possibility of restructuring, by setting out the factors councils should consider and the processes to be followed – including with regard to local support.
For councils wishing to restructure to form unitary local government, the first step of the statutory process as set out under the 2007 Act is for the minister to issue an invitation to councils to submit proposals.
Brokenshire said there were two circumstances in which he would consider issuing such an invitation.
The first circumstance, he said, is where the following two conditions are met:
There is a local request for an invitation.
That he considers that the request “demonstrates local opinion is coalescing around a single option which is reasonably likely to meet the existing publicly announced criteria for unitarization”.
The Secretary of State said, in forming his view, he would carefully consider the request, including the groups making and supporting it and their reasons for so doing. “Where I issue an invitation, I would do so to all those councils that I consider to have regard to the area concerned, whether or not they were among those who had made the original request.”
The minister said the second circumstance was where he considered that doing so would be appropriate given the specific circumstances of the area, including in relation to the long-term sustainability of local services. This was the situation in which his predecessor, Sajid Javid, issued an invitation to the councils in Northamptonshire, he said.
“Following such an invitation, it would be for the councils concerned to decide whether to develop and submit proposals for unitarisation, either individually or jointly by two or more councils.”
In the statement Brokenshire confirmed that he would assess any locally-led unitary proposal that he received against the criteria for unitarisation announced to Parliament in 2017.
These criteria state that subject to Parliamentary approval a proposal can be implemented, with or without modification, if the Secretary of State has concluded that across the area as a whole the proposal was likely to:
improve the area’s local government;
command “a good deal of local support across the area”; and
cover an area that provides a credible geography for the proposed new structures, including that any new unitary council’s population would be expected to be in excess of 300,000.
On district council mergers, the Secretary of State confirmed that where two or more district councils submit a proposal to merge, he would assess this against the criteria for mergers announced to Parliament in November 2017 and which had been used since then.
“The statutory process for such mergers does not involve my inviting proposals, and I recognise that particularly small district councils may wish to propose merging as a natural next step following a number of years of successful joint working, sharing of services and senior management teams,” he said.
The criteria for district council mergers are that, subject to Parliamentary approval, a proposal to merge would be implemented if the minister had reached a judgement in the round that if so implemented it would be likely to:
improve the area’s local government;
command local support, “in particular that the merger is proposed by all councils which are to be merged and there is evidence of a good deal of local support”; and
the area is a credible geography, consisting of two or more existing local government areas that are adjacent, and which, if established, would not pose an obstacle to locally-led proposals for authorities to combine to serve their communities better and would facilitate joint working between local authorities.
Brokenshire said: “This statement is intended to provide clarity to councils and communities and help ensure that time and effort are not wasted on pursuing proposals which are unlikely to get the go ahead. It is important that those seeking to pursue locally led proposals are confident that there is a broad basis of common local support for the proposals to avoid unnecessary local conflict and distraction from the delivery of quality public services. The statement underlines the need for any proposals to be innovative, improve services, enhance accountability, have local support and deliver financial sustainability if they are to be taken forward.
“Moreover, restructuring is only one of the different ways that councils can move forward. Joint working with other councils and partners could also be an appropriate and sustainable way forward. Such joint working can take a variety of forms ranging from adopting joint plans, setting up joint committees, and sharing back office services, to establishing Combined Authorities, and may extend across county boundaries. Those in an area will know what is best – the very essence of localism to which the Government remains committed.”
“International lawmakers should adopt a fifth Geneva convention that recognises damage to nature alongside other war crimes, according to an open letter by 24 prominent scientists.
The legal instrument should incorporate wildlife safeguards in conflict regions, including protections for nature reserves, controls on the spread of guns used for hunting and measures to hold military forces to account for damage to the environment, say the signatories to the letter, published in the journal Nature.
The UN international law commission is due to hold a meeting with the aim of building on the 28 principles it has already drawn up to protect the environment in war zones.
Prof Sarah Durant of the Zoological Society of London, one of the signatories to the letter, said the principles were a major step forward and should be expanded to make specific mention of biodiversity, and then adopted across the world.
“The brutal toll of war on the natural world is well documented, destroying the livelihoods of vulnerable communities and driving many species, already under intense pressure, towards extinction,” she said.
“We hope governments around the world will enshrine these protections into international law. This would not only help safeguard threatened species, but would also support rural communities, both during and post-conflict, whose livelihoods are long-term casualties of environmental destruction.” …”
Here we go …
“LONDON — Boris Johnson has been accused by opponents of allowing friends to “buy influence” after a business executive who loaned the incoming prime minister his lavish £9.5 million home was offered a job in Johnson’s new administration.
Andrew Griffith has stepped down from his role as chief financial officer at broadcasting giant Sky to work as a “corporate adviser” to Johnson.
It came after Johnson and his campaign team were handed Griffith’s lavish Westminster property for the past few weeks as he fought Jeremy Hunt in the Conservative leadership contest, according to a Guardian report.
Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said: “Before he is even appointed Prime Minister, one of Boris Johnson’s first acts is to dish out a powerful job in Number 10 to his super-rich pal who lent him his luxurious house in Westminster for the Tory leadership campaign.”
“The public would be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Johnson’s friends can buy influence within the new administration.”
“It’s blindingly obvious — Boris Johnson and his government will act only in the interest of the wealthy elite.”
Johnson previously worked from the flat belonging to his partner Carrie Symonds located in Camberwell, south London. But the pair were forced to move out of the flat after police were called to the property following a row from the pair, which drew protests outside.
The couple have been living in Oxfordshire but Johnson’s sizeable campaign team reportedly needed a property near Westminster from which they could operate.
Griffith is a former Conservative election candidate who worked at Sky for twenty years, before standing down.
Chief executive Jeremy Darroch told Sky News: “Over the course of his twenty years at Sky and since 2008 as a member of the Board as CFO (chief financial officer) and then as chief operating officer, Andrew has played a fundamental role in many of our proudest collective achievements.”
“Whilst Andrew will be missed, he leaves behind a business that is performing well, has an ambitious set of growth plans and a strong team of colleagues,” he said. …”
“Some schools are deliberately pricing school uniforms beyond the means of poorer families so “only posh kids go there”, MPs have been told.
Emma Hardy, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, has written to the education secretary, Damian Hinds, asking him to tell schools to stop forcing parents to buy branded school uniforms.
She said that academies in particular were “emulating grammar schools and private schools” in prescribing prohibitively expensive uniforms – including branded blazers and even socks.
She had also been told that some academies deliberately chose expensive suppliers in order to put off parents of lesser means, and that some schools received a cut from suppliers given the exclusive contract for their uniforms.
“People have told me confidentially that schools get money from suppliers,” said Hardy. …
A survey from the Children’s Society last year found families were shelling out more on school uniforms with an average of £340 per year for each child at secondary school – an increase of 7% or £24 since 2015. Parents of primary school children spent on average £255, an increase of 2% since 2015.
The research found nearly one in six families said school uniform costs were to blame for them having to cut back on food and other basic essentials compared to one in seven in 2015.
In England, local authorities and academy trusts may choose to provide school clothing grants or to help with the cost of school clothing in cases of financial hardship.
In Wales, a Pupil Development Grant can provide £125 to buy school uniform, equipment, sports kit and kit for activities outside of school. In Scotland, parents may be able to get financial help with their child’s school clothing and shoes through a school clothing grant, available from local councils.”