Lord Porter is the Chairman of the Local Government Association.
Alongside the usual seasonal festivities, local government experiences another Christmas tradition each year: the publication of the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement.
Whilst it is fair to say that, due to the very technical nature of the Settlement and the many other distractions at this time of year, this receives relatively little attention beyond the local government sector, it is of course immensely important for councils across the country.
This year’s Settlement, which was presented to the House of Commons last week, contained a number of positive announcements, including extra funding for some councils in 2019/2020 to cancel the “negative Revenue Support Grant” adjustment to tariffs and top-ups, £180 million of surplus on the levy account being distributed to all councils, and an extra fifteen authorities from across the country being selected to pilot 75% business rates retention in 2019/20.
In addition to the above, I am particularly pleased that the Government has decided not to increase the New Homes Bonus (NHB) threshold next year. This is important since the NHB represents a significant source of funding for many councils, particularly shire districts, as well as encouraging sustainable development that has the support of local communities.
I also strongly welcomed the provision of £16 million in additional funding for rural authorities to reflect the particular challenges they face in delivering services to sparsely populated areas.
As important as the Settlement is for councils, it also needs to be viewed in the context of the recent Budget which showed that the Government is listening to the Local Government Association’s (LGA) call for investment in services, with key announcements including an extra £410 million in 2019/20 for adults and children’s social care, £420 million to tackle potholes, £400 million for schools to spend on equipment and facilities, £675 million for a Future High Streets Fund, and a further £500 million for the Housing Infrastructure Fund to unlock 650,000 new homes.
The extra funding across a variety of policy areas that was announced in both the Budget and the Local Government Finance Settlement represents significant lobbying wins for the LGA.
I would like to take this opportunity to place on record my thanks to James Brokenshire and his Ministerial team at the Ministry of Housing, Communities for listening to our concerns.
Whilst welcoming the additional funding, the LGA will be responding to the consultation on the Provisional Settlement by stressing the significant pressures that councils still face whilst also continuing our lobbying work in relation to the long anticipated Social Care Green Paper, which we hope will be published very soon, and the critically important Spending Review in 2019.
The Green Paper and the Spending Review both have the potential to put local government finance on a truly sustainable long-term footing, and I will continue to press the case that local government is an integral part of the solution to many of the challenges that the country faces.