The latest news from the Independent Group
- Remote Meetings – 28 April 2021
In response to the High Court judgement that remote meetings cannot take place, a spokesperson for the LGA Independent Group says:
‘This ruling is extremely disappointing. Councils have repeatedly made a very strong case for the continuation of remote and hybrid meetings, particularly while covid-19 restrictions still apply, and the many benefits they bring longer-term. The ability to hold remote meetings makes local government more democratic, more accessible and more representative. They also benefit the environment and can be a more efficient use of officer and member time.
‘The government had plenty of opportunity to bring forward the primary legislation required to formally extend the ability to hold remote meetings but decided not to. They did however allow parliamentarians to meet remotely until at least the 21st June 2021.
‘We now hope the government’s call for evidence gathers the information needed to convince Ministers that councils should have the ability to hold remote or hybrid meetings where most appropriate.’
The LGA’s statement can be found on the LGA website along with the survey results of 243 English Councils which found 83% would be very likely or fairly likely to conduct meetings online or as a hybrid meeting after the pandemic was over, if able.
- Budget 2021 – 3 March 2021
Responding to today’s Budget announced by The Chancellor, Cllr Marianne Overton MBE says:
‘Todays Budget starts to set out a long road to economic recovery, supporting some areas through the Towns Fund and ‘levelling up’ pots. However grants and bids are not a sustainable way to support our communities. We continue to call for our full costs and loss of income from government coronavirus restrictions to be covered so that Councils can do their job at the heart of local recovery efforts.
‘It is disappointing that a sustainable solution to the social care crisis has been delayed further and there is a missed opportunity not to focus more on the opportunities available through green investment.
‘To fully recover and prosper following this pandemic we must focus on more than just growth – we need greater investment in our environment, health and wellbeing.’
- New campaign guidance – 1 March 2020
Following the publication of updated guidance on campaigning ahead of the local elections in May, now allowing doorstep campaigning from 8 March, Cllr Marianne Overton MBE said;
“It is disappointing that we have lost weeks following the previous guidance, prohibiting doorstep leafletting despite commercial activity being ok. However we are delighted that the Minister has heard our representations and u-turned on the policy to allow covid safe campaigning. It has been a big effort and thank you to all who have made representations.”
- May Elections must be Fair for all – 5 February 2021
In response to the guidance issued by the Cabinet Office confirming local elections will take place on the 6 May 2021, Cllr Marianne Overton MBE Leader of the Local Government Association Independent Group says:
‘It is helpful to finally see the government committing to a date for the local elections, following a lot of uncertainty for councils and candidates. We must now ensure that there is a level playing field for all candidates as we approach May 6th.
‘Current guidance excluding candidates from doorstep campaigning must end immediately. It is entirely counter-productive to getting people engaged in using their democratic right. Local Councils affect almost all of our lives, from education and public health to supporting the economy, keeping the standard of our roads, tackling flooding and keeping people safe and care. It is vital local people are informed properly to use their vote to decide who should best represent them. If leaflets by post are allowed, then covid-safe leaflet delivery must logically be allowed too, especially when it includes information and contacts useful for residents during the covid period.
‘Most Independents fund their own campaigns. Posting leaflets even in bulk remains beyond the reach of most Independent and smaller party councillors. Marketing systems are a poor relation to the face-to-face conversations our members and residents value. The election is more than just one day or the few weeks prior to it. Therefore the guidance being developed for candidates must be expedited and ensure a level playing field, starting with an end the current advantages being given to the big Westminster parties and their marketing machines.’
- Doorstep campaigning – 25 January 2021
In response to the latest guidance from the Cabinet Office regarding doorstep campaigning Cllr Marianne Overton MBE, Leader of the LGA Independent Group said:
‘I read this guidance on with significant concern. The government states that the current covid ‘restrictions do not support door to door campaigning or leafleting by individual political party activists’, yet this disproportionately disadvantages Independent and smaller party candidates who may not have the benefit of funding for big postal campaigns.
‘On the same day that Councillors read this letter, they were receiving newsletters through the post by Party MPs, not providing a ministerial update or even an update on Westminster activity, but party-political updates, with the upcoming local elections clearly in mind, reinforcing party lines.
‘If we do not have a level playing field, which includes safe and covid-secure interaction with residents, then our democratic engagement is undermined and it risks being a battle of the marketing experts.
‘My residents, as I’m sure you do, receive multiple leaflets a day from local businesses and it would be counter-intuitive to exclude our members from informing residents of the activities of their local representatives and information on dealing with covid.
‘I have therefore ask Ministers to reconsider this approach to limit our democracy.'
- Remote meetings – 21 January 2021
Last year the government introduced rules, in response to covid-19, which allow councils to hold meetings remotely. However these regulations run out on the 7 May and primary legislation is required for remote meetings to continue.
In response to the growing concern about the future of council meetings during the pandemic Cllr Marianne Overton MBE, Leader of the LGA Independent Group said:
‘Independent Group members across the country are very concerned by the lack of commitment to bring forward the required legislation to extend the right for councillors to meet remotely. Given that social distancing is going to be required for some time and our imminent annual meetings in May, we need this legislation as a matter of urgency.
‘Without the required extension many members, for no fault of their own, will be unable to properly represent their residents and could ultimately be dismissed from the council under the six-month rule. This would be a flagrant insult to local democracy and one easily avoided.
‘Our group is therefore calling on the government to bring forward the legislation to rectify this unintentional consequence of current covid restrictions’.
- Spending Review – 25 November 2020
Responding to today’s Spending Review announcement, Cllr Marianne Overton MBE, Leader of the LGA Independent Group says:
‘Our Independent Group members have been very clear in what was needed from the Spending Review, starting with certainty. The Chancellor’s statement of only one year falls short.
‘Announcements on homelessness, the towns fund, supporting victims of domestic abuse and additional support for Councils are welcome, but is not all new money and does not go anything like far enough. The increased “spending power” promised to councils of 4.5% by 2021/22, will only be achieved by Councils raising their taxes, neither certain or sustainable, and the ‘Levelling-up’ should not be a bidding process or require MP sign-off.
‘Our council staff have worked to keep the country running and should have been properly recognised, they are now ‘thanked’’ with a standstill income.
‘The Chancellor also missed an opportunity to recommit to the green agenda, which has to be more than words on the page. Conflicting with recently announced plans for the environment is the continuing policy of “build, build build” and an insistence of pushing a planning policy that creates a developers’ charter. Our world deserves better.’
- Ahead of the Spending Review – 24 November 2020
Ahead of the 2020 Spending Review being announced tomorrow (25 November), Independent Leaders are calling on The Chancellor to recognise the vital contribution local government has made to our nation’s fight against covid.
Cllr Marianne Overton MBE, Leader of the LGA Independent Group says:
‘Since the start of the year councils have responded admirably to the pandemic while also managing to provide rubbish collections; support test and trace; safeguard our vulnerable and isolated; organise and distribute food deliveries; support our businesses; respond to increased pressure on the social care system; keep our schools and parks open and safe, support our leisure and arts facilities as best we can and respond to new announcements on planning and reorganisation all while preparing for our transition from the EU and everything that entails.
‘Despite the welcome funding that has come to councils to date, many still face significant uncertainty as they approach next year’s budgets. Councils can make a critical contribution to the economic, social and environment recovery our country needs, but need to be adequately funded to do so.
‘LGA analysis finds councils face a funding gap of over £1bn this year and over £5bn by 2023/24 just to maintain current service levels even if council tax increases by 2 per cent each year and grants increase in line with inflation. That is why the LGA is calling for an extra £8.7bn to plug funding gaps, meet current pressures and improve services for the future.
‘Independent Leaders in councils across the country are calling for:
- Sustainable, long term certainty in regards to funding for councils
- Parity with the NHS when it comes to clearing all of the costs incurred due to covid-19
- Recognising and acknowledging care and public health workers, alongside NHS staff
- Ensuring support reaches those families not in receipt of benefits but on low, unreliable incomes
- Greater clarity on the funding announced for the leisure sector
- Confirmation of plans to fill gaps within the current furlough scheme and better support those on zero hours contracts negatively impacted by reduced hours, especially in the arts, retail and hospitality industries over the Christmas period
‘We hope that Wednesday’s announcement reflects the contribution of all of our councils to date and recognises their critical importance in our future recovery.’
New Planning proposals – 3 August 2020
In response to plans set out in the Sunday Telegraph on the government’s forthcoming planning proposals, Cllr Marianne Overton MBE, Leader of the LGA Independent Group said:
‘The government’s squeeze on local councils now extends to centralising planning in a framework, where local decision-making could become a thing of the past and leave local residents without a proper voice.
Robert Jenrick MP announced his new policy in a letter to the Sunday Times yesterday after being in front of MP’s recently for over-riding local planning, giving permission for development and enabling a party donor to avoid paying the Council over £30m in contributions to local community infrastructure.
He says planning is “slow and outdated” with “red tape”, because big and complicated applications have to provide information about their impact on the environment, on local people, on highways - the things councillors and residents care about. Local people then have information and two or three weeks to speak up, to point out impacts that might otherwise be missed. Local decision-makers are then properly informed. Applications can be rejected or improved with conditions applied to mitigate the problems.
Is that really something we want to do away with? The “outdated, red tape” being cut here is our informed democratic voice.
Around 90 per cent of applications are assessed quickly and passed without even going to committee. Small, straight-forward developments get passed very quickly, within a month. Larger developments of perhaps 1,500 houses may take many years to sell and build. Yet the whole planning process takes a maximum of just eight or 13 weeks depending on the size of the application, a relatively quick part of the whole process.
The myth that planning is holding up development is absurd. Permissions for a million homes over the past decade have not been built, and many remain homeless.
Councils need freedoms to once again build affordable homes to rent, set their own discounts for resale, and finance to provide essential support services.
The planning system is about local, democratic decision-making and we cannot afford to allow this to slip away further into Whitehall.’
- Launch of the UK Local Government Programme on Civility in Public Life
Launch of the UK Local Government Programme on Civility in Public Life
The LGA, along with the other local government associations around the UK, recently launched a national programme on civility in public life.
Speaking at the event, Councillor Marianne Overton MBE said:
‘Through the launch of the LGA’s toolkit to encourage women, parents and carers into local politics early in 2019, it became clear that one of the significant barriers for many people, particularly women, was the expected high level of negative comments, intimidation, threats and abuse; made especially easy and direct with the rise of social media.
‘We heard about how the abuse levelled at councillors affected their parents, brothers, sisters, children and family members. We heard about fears for their children’s safety and wellbeing. We heard stories of councillors having to move house, having police protection, panic alarms installed, cars and homes attacked, personal threats, death threats and attacks. We heard a frustration that more could not be done to protect councillors and stop the perpetrators. We lamented the impact on our democracy.
‘This is why, at the recent UK Forum, I presented a proposal for a UK-wise response and am very grateful and heartened that local government across our four countries is now working together on this programme, which we have called Civility in Public Life, with a public-facing campaign called #DebatenotHate.’
You can find out more about this work on the LGA’s website: www.local.gov.uk/civility-public-life
- General Election 2019
Following the General election, Cllr Marianne Overton MBE, Leader of the LGA Independent Group said:
‘Last night over 1200 Independent and smaller party candidates stood for election. I want to congratulate their efforts and the incredibly hard work that goes into running a campaign without a big party machine behind you.
The message on the doorsteps was one of strong support for local candidates, but in the final days, it seems we were overwhelmed by a drive to settle Brexit and avoid Mr Corbyn. Against this tide, the number of votes cast and the gains made in areas like East Devon and Ashfield demonstrate what can be done.
To break the two party dominance currently facing England and Wales, we need to make our electoral system fully representative of the votes cast.
Electoral reform isn’t a peripheral issue, it’s central to our democracy. We must ensure every vote matters.’