Inflation could push English councils into bankruptcy, say leaders

What are you doing to help Simon? – Owl

Patrick Butler www.theguardian.com 

Council leaders in England have said a multibillion-pound financial crisis caused by rising inflation could make local services unviable and even lead to local authorities going bankrupt, unless the government offers emergency funding.

The cross-party Local Government Association (LGA) said local services that were seemingly secure just three months ago were now at risk of closure or cuts as councils scramble to manage an unforeseen £2.4bn rise in energy and pay costs.

The Tory chair of the LGA, James Jamieson, said the impact on services would be “disastrous” and hamper councils’ efforts to support people through the cost of living crisis at a time when demand for services was rising, especially in areas such as adult and children’s social care, and homelessness.

“Soaring inflation, energy prices and ‘national living wage’ pressures are putting council services at risk. Budgets are having to be reset, with potential cuts to the essential services people rely on, in the middle of a cost of living crisis,” Jamieson said.

The LGA estimates that without adequate long-term funding – in effect a revisiting of the spending review settlement agreed last autumn – the collective increase in inflationary costs faced by English councils this year will be £2.4bn, growing to £3bn in 2023-24 and £3.6bn in 2024-25.

It argues that these pressures, coming on the back of more than a decade of austerity cuts to local authority funding, pose a “serious risk to the future financial viability of some services and councils”.

Jamieson added: “Inflation is not going to come down overnight. As our analysis shows, the impact on our local services could be disastrous. This will stifle our economic recovery and undermine government ambitions to level up the country.”

The Guardian revealed earlier this month that councils were anticipating a collective and unexpected £1.7bn shortfall this year as a result of inflation. The LGA has updated this to include estimates from England’s 181 district councils, as well as additional analysis of the impact of increases in the national living wage.

When budgets were set earlier this year, councils were typically factoring in average pay and inflation costs of about 3%. However, inflation is now at 9%, with the Bank of England predicting it will hit 11% by October.

Councils are required by law to balance their books each financial year, meaning that fixing financial shortfalls cannot be put off. This is likely to lead to job losses, and the abandonment or delay of building projects such as new schools or regeneration schemes. It could also result in service cuts, from libraries and leisure centres to road repairs.

Chart showing rising costs English councils face

John Boyce, the Liberal Democrat leader of Oadby and Wigston borough council in Leicestershire and an executive member of the District Councils’ Network, said: “This could push some councils over the edge, or they will have to make radical cuts. That’s difficult because we are already cut to the bone. Cuts means staff, and staff equal frontline services.”

Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up, housing and communities secretary, said: “There is a crisis on the horizon. The cleaners, carers, bin collectors and other council workers that kept this country going during the pandemic and are now struggling to feed their families deserve a pay rise.

“But councils have seen billions cut from their budgets in the last decade and are now facing billions more in extra costs due to soaring inflation. They cannot square this circle alone.

“Ministers are the only people who can get everybody round the table and find a solution to protect vital council services. They must urgently do their job to prevent yet more chaos.”

A government spokesperson said: “This year, we made an additional £3.7bn available to councils so they can continue to deliver key services, and we are working with the sector to understand the impact of emerging challenges.”

However, the LGA, which hosts its annual conference in Harrogate this week, said that inflation had already eaten through this year’s increase, and with the lion’s share of the three-year spending review increase falling in 2022-23, councils would be even more exposed in future years. It estimated a net funding gap of £1.4bn this year and £3.4bn next year, rising to £4.5bn in 2024-25.

PM equates proposed  £150,000 treehouse for Wilf to “infrastructure”

“In Touch” with the PM (maybe he thinks it would count as affordable housing) – Owl

Susanna Reid floored as PM quizzed about £150,000 treehouse

Gemma Jones www.liverpoolecho.co.uk 

Susanna Reid appeared perplexed on today’s Good Morning Britain as a clip was shown of the Prime Minister being questioned about a treehouse.

Speaking to co-host Adil Ray, Susanna explained that there have been reports of Mr Johnson wanting to build a treehouse for his young son. However, the alleged plans are said to be costing around £150,000 – more than some actual houses cost.

She said: “He was asked about this by ITV News. Let’s see what he said.” The screen cut to a clip of the Prime Minister having a chat with a reporter.

The reporter asked him: “There are reports that you wanted to but a £150,000 treehouse for your son. Did you?”

He replied: “There is no such structure. There are all sorts of allegations made about my family.” The reporter interrupted him, as she said: “But did you want to build one?” He ignored her and continued: “If you look at the infrastructure that I have built, I am very very proud of it.”

After the clip, Susanna looked incredibly shocked as she said: “What treehouse costs £150,000?” Adil added: “Well, precisely.”

Guest Ranvir Singh said: “Clearly in his mind the treehouse is infrastructure. What a strange comparison to make.”

The Prime Minister and his wife Carrie wanted to build the treehouse during autumn 2020 but had to pull the plug after it raised security concerns. There were discussions about having Lord Brownlow, a Tory donor ranked the 521st richest person in the UK last year, fund the project, with plans for the treehouse drawn up for the country retreat, it has been reported.

Some No10 aides warned Mr Johnson against the project due to the cost and the matter of it being more expensive than some homes in many parts of the UK. A government spokesman said: “We do not comment on private or family matters which do not involve any ministerial declarations or taxpayer funds.”

Now they are losing newly won Council seats

Labour win Harlow by-election seat held by ex-councillor after his Twitter account retweeted ‘racist’ material

Charlie Ridler  www.msn.com 

Labour have won a seat formerly held by an ex-councillor who resigned after “racist” content was retweeted on his Twitter account. Kay Morrison will represent Bush Fair ward on on Harlow Council after beating Conservative candidate Emma Ghaffari by 112 votes in a by-election last night (June 23).

The former Conservative councillor Marco Lorenzini won the seat from Labour by just four votes in the May local elections, but only a week later had the party whip withdrawn and then resigned. In an earlier statement, Harlow Conservatives said they “utterly condemn” the remarks retweeted from Mr Lorenzini’s account, withdrawing the whip and calling on him to resign. A later statement by Harlow Council confirmed Mr Lorenzini had resigned.

Labour now hold 13 seats on the council, but the Conservatives still have a majority, holding 20 seats. Speaking to the local democracy reporting service after the result, Cllr Morrison said she was “absolutely delighted” by the victory.

Read more: Harlow Tory councillor quits days after winning seat over ‘racist’ and ‘abhorrent’ retweets

She said: “I know that quite a lot of Conservative voters have been disillusioned, and who would blame them with the behaviour of those MPs, and in particular the Prime Minister, in Westminster and the behaviour of a certain individual here in Harlow, really not acceptable.”

Conservative candidate Emma Ghaffari said the controversy surrounding Mr Lorenzini’s departure was not the main reason for the group’s defeat. She told the LDRS: “I do feel sad about it [the result] but we must move on, onwards and upwards.” Later she said: “The cost of living and other various factors came into play, but we just stick with local issues.” She said she could not comment on whether the Conservative group would be changing its vetting procedure for candidates.

According to Harlow Council’s website, the turnout was 22.97 per cent, 4.67 per cent lower than in May. Cllr Morrison received 594 votes while Ms Ghaffari received 482. Meanwhile, the Green Party’s Jennifer Steadman received 109 votes and Nicholas Taylor, standing for the Harlow Alliance Party, received 47.

Likes and retweets which had been made by Mr Lorenzini’s account emerged on Twitter on May 10, including one referring to a “Muslim invasion” and another saying white people are “the only race you can legally discriminate against”. Another mocked the recent casting of Ncuti Gatwa, a Black Scottish actor with Rwandan heritage, as the next Doctor Who.

A Harlow Council spokesperson said in an earlier statement: “Marco Lorenzini has resigned as councillor for the Bush Fair Ward with immediate effect.”

A statement shared by Harlow Conservatives on Twitter said: “We utterly condemn these remarks and have removed the whip from this councillor with immediate effect. This means he will sit as an independent councillor.

“These abhorrent views are not the views of the Conservative party and we utterly condemn them. There is no place in our party for such thought and we will never accept it.”

A later tweet from Harlow Conservatives said: “Our group calls unreservedly for the independent councillor to resign with immediate effect.” A third said: “Following this, we understand this Cllr has resigned.” Sharing the screenshots on Twitter, former Labour leader of the council Mark Ingall claimed Mr Lorenzini’s account was “spreading racist hate”. Nationally, the Conservatives also lost two Westminster by-elections to opposition parties last night, losing Wakefield to Labour and Tiverton and Honiton in Devon to the Liberal Democrats, according to reporting by the BBC.

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Conservative controlled Wiltshire Council meeting cancelled due to ‘insufficient business’

“I’m surprised at a time when Wiltshire residents are facing a crippling cost of living crisis, a climate emergency and strike action that, apparently, there isn’t anything worth discussing at a council meeting.” (Leader of Lib Dem group, Cllr Ian Thorn) 

They are running out of ideas – Owl

Benjamin Paessler www.salisburyjournal.co.uk 

WILTSHIRE Council will no longer meet next month due to “insufficient business”. 

The council had been due to have its next full meeting in Trowbridge on July 19. 

The decision was taken before the deadline for submitting motions and questions.

The leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group, cllr Ian Thorn, said he is “flabbergasted” that the administration “seems to have nothing to discuss”. 

Cllr Thorn added: “I’m surprised at a time when Wiltshire residents are facing a crippling cost of living crisis, a climate emergency and strike action that, apparently, there isn’t anything worth discussing at a council meeting.

“Either there is no programme or activity to share with members at a council meeting or decisions are being taken elsewhere. Coupled with the sparse agenda in May, at least one cancelled meeting of cabinet and members being denied the opportunity to ask verbal questions at cabinet it all adds up to a pretty sorry state.”

The Lib Dems were planning motions on the cost of living crisis, disinvestment in companies that avoid paying tax and possibly something on pesticides.

In an email seen by the Journal’s sister paper the Gazette and Herald, Lib Dems cllr, Ruth Hopkinson, said she was “somewhat appalled” by the decision. 

Cllr Hopkinson, writing to the chairman of the council Stuart Wheeler, said: “I have no wish to sit through tedious meetings for no good reason, but there is a matter of principle at stake here.

“That principle is that all Councillors are elected to oversee the work of the Council & represent our residents. This decision reduces our ability to do that.”

The council’s leader, Richard Clewer, responded saying there were only two items that full council needed to make a decision over – a governance report around parish boundaries that will not come into effect until 2025 and “a very minor change around the constitution which can be covered in October”.

He said: “On that basis I don’t personally see that it is sensible to ask 98 members to (mostly) drive to county hall for a meeting that is not making any decisions that are urgent. 

“Instead I think it makes sense to save the travel and carbon emissions not to mention officer time.”

On the matter of motions more broadly, Cllr Clewer said: “I find that many of the motions that are brought to full council are based on national templates and call on Wiltshire to urge central government to take action. 

“They are politically motivated and of no benefit to Wiltshire Council or its residents.  There have been a few exceptions to that and those motions have been discussed in advance, worked on to make sure they are implementable and been put through on a cross party basis. 

“No one has raised any such motions with me over the last few weeks. I would also note that no motions were brought to the last full council.” 

Losing Touch in East Devon – Latest News

Owl has been reminded of the hypocritical glossy flyer distributed by the Tories in March/April publicising Simon Jupp’s partisan comments about EDDC on the front page.

Neil Parish took a similar though less abrasive line. Even so, he has now been replaced by Lib Dem Richard Foord MP.

Maybe it’s time Simon took his own advice and, as the member of parliament for East Devon, listened to, and worked constructively with, the elected majority in the District Council in his constituency to make East Devon a better place to live and work in.

To use his words “East Devon deserves better”.

PS “Our MP’s work closely with our councillors” is a bit of a joke – Owl

I’m not keeping up with the times

A correspondent writes:

I find it disingenuous for Neil Parish to proudly say that in his 12 years in Parliament he never snitched on his colleagues and did not expect them to do it to him.  This implies that there were times when he could have done just that.

He pleads (to him) a lesser charge of “immorality” rather than “illegality”.

I expect my elected representative to behave both morally and legally in Parliament and outside it, but it is obvious I am not keeping up with the  times, where both immorality and illegality are not  just accepted by the Tory Party but actively encouraged.