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Local Authority round-up 04/10/19

Our Local Authority round up provides brief summaries of topical information on a weekly basis, to keep you aware of the changes and updates relevant to you.


Mixed reaction in the Commons after Prime Minister updates MPs on Brexit plans

The Prime Minister has outlined his new Brexit plan to the House of Commons. The PM received varied support from the DUP and pro-leave Tory members. Steve Baker says that ‘we now glimpse the possibility of a tolerable deal’, claiming the plan has a ‘fighting chance’ of getting through Parliament. However, the Liberal Democrat leader has criticised the PM for not visiting the Northern Irish border and understanding the ‘genuine fear’ that his proposals cause adding that his plan was the ‘worst of both worlds’. In the meantime the Northern Ireland Police Chief announced that there are not enough officers to police the plan. Members of the European Parliament also raised concerns, saying the proposals ‘do not address the real issues that need to be resolved’ in replacing the Irish backstop. They described the plan as a ‘last minute’ effort, which did not match ‘even remotely’ an acceptable deal for the EU. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s lead Brexit spokesman, said it would be ‘almost impossible’ for MEPs to agree Boris Johnson’s plan and the president of the European Council announced that they stand ‘fully behind Ireland’ in their opposition to the proposals.

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Boris Johnson reveals his Brexit plan

Boris Johnson has set out his Brexit plan that would keep Northern Ireland in the European single market for goods but leave the customs union. The plan replaces the Irish ‘backstop of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. The backstop has been viewed as a controversial insurance policy to keep a free-flowing border on Ireland’s border, critics feared this could keep the UK tied to EU trading rules indefinitely. The new plan would replace the ‘backstop’ for a ‘broad loading zone’. This would have Northern Ireland leaving the EU’s customs union alongside the UK, yet continue to apply EU legislation relating to agriculture and other products. The proposal also requires the consent of the politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly initially and every four years to keep the arrangement going. The Prime Minister proposes that customs checks on goods traded between the UK and EU be ‘decentralised’, with paperwork submitted electronically when required and a ‘very small number’ of physical checks. Finally, any checks will take place away from the border, at business premises or at ‘other points in the supply chain’. The Democratic Unionist Party, have approved the plan but other Northern Ireland parties have criticised the proposals.

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Dover could lose £1bn of trade a week if no-deal Brexit strikes

The Port of Dover chief has told the Conservative conference that a post Brexit traffic drop could cut up to £1bn from goods flow. Doug Bannister, the chief executive at the Port of Dover, told a fringe event at the Conservative conference that the assumed drop in traffic under a no-deal scenario would take £1bn a week from the flow of goods. He expressed that the port has been engaged in extensive preparations for ‘exit day’ but added ‘that’s how critical it is. If there’s a no-deal Brexit, it’s not going to be OK. But people are doing all they can to ensure Britain keeps trading’. Each year Dover handles £122bn by value, or 17% of UK’s trade in goods.

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Sour reactions to ‘customs clearance zones’ suggestions

The UK government has suggested the creation of ‘customs clearance zones’ along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as part of negotiations for reaching a Brexit deal. The idea is for goods to be declared and cleared at the sites, their movement would then be monitored, possibly via mobile phone GPS data or tracking devices. This plan was contained in one of four ‘non-papers’ submitted by UK officials during recent technical discussions in Brussels. The plans have received a frosty reaction with some politicians and business leaders. Sinn Fein’s president Mar-Lou McDonald stated to ‘re-impose a hard border on our island… is out of the question’. The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood criticised the government’s plans, stating ‘the presence of physical checks will create economic and security challenges that are unacceptable’.

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Chancellor promises ‘significant economic policy response’ to no-deal

Sajid Javid has declared that Britain could still leave the EU without a deal, whilst not giving details himself the BBC’s Norman Smith identified that tax cuts and reduced interest rates would be an obvious step to mitigate the impact. The Chancellor said the government has been working on ‘mitigations’ to allow it to ‘deal with many of the disruptions’ of a no-deal, if agreement cannot be reached before the deadline. He also referenced ‘the independent Bank of England that will almost certainly think about a monetary policy response and that’s for them’. When asked how much a no-deal Brexit would cost the economy, Javid replied ‘ I don’t think anyone really knows a full proper answer to that question’.

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Older people struggle with EU settlement scheme application

Age UK has warned the government that it could face a ‘Windrush 2’ scenario as vulnerable people are failing to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) in time. Older EU nationals living in the UK could face deportation or be shut out of public services if they do not register for the scheme by the deadline. Age UK announced that only 16% of EU nationals aged 65 and above have made an application to the EUSS compared to 30% of working age people.  The charity’s director Caroline Abrahams said ‘A compulsory settlement scheme, designed to operate mostly online and with potentially dire consequences for anyone who fails to comply with it, spells big trouble ahead. We fear for thousands of older people who have lived for donkey’s years in this country’.

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Core Cities Shared Prosperity Fund must reach £28bn

The proposed UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) needs to be worth £28bn over seven years in order for the UK to deliver its devolved policy objectives.  The UKSPF must be worth at least £4bn a year until 2026, which is double the current £2.1bn allocated annually through EU structural funds. A recent report stated that the Core Cities must convince minsters that the size of the UKSPF should not be driven by the size of previous EU structural funding. Instead, the UKSPF determination should reflect the objectives of the industrial strategy and government plans to reduce economic inequalities.

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Welsh councils to receive over £400,000 for electric charge points

The Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) have announced that initially nine councils in Wales are set to receive £458,724.50 to install electric vehicle charge points. The plan is for the councils to install 73 charge points with 146 individual sockets, significantly increasing the availability of accessible charging options for those with electric/hybrid vehicles. The secretary of state for Wales, Alun Cairns, commented that ‘The next few decades will be transformative for our transport industry and therefore it is vital that electric vehicle drivers feel confident about the availability of charge points near their homes and along their journeys’. Other councils await the amounts allocated to them to be confirmed.

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Government notify system to save taxpayers £175m

The GOV.UK direct messaging service allows public sector bodies and councils to message people on a range of matters from council tax reminders to details of doctors’ appointments.  The government announced last week that this messaging service is set to save tax payers an average of £35m a year over five years. The savings of £175m over the next half a decade, are a result of the reduced requirement for people to phone call centres or chase up information. The Minister for the Cabinet Office Oliver Dowden explained ‘This allows us to invest more in the public’s priorities, with the savings from this initiative alone equivalent to the cost of building 8 new secondary schools’.

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£70m funding to community mental health services

Mental health services in 12 areas of England are to receive a share of £70m to deliver new specialist services. The funding will pay for 1,000 extra staff and revamp local NHS services. This will support people with severe mental illnesses to access psychological therapies, housing advice and employment support in their communities. Nadine Dorries, the mental health minister, announced ‘This funding, the first step in our extra £975m investment in community mental health care, will allow local areas to recruit extra staff to run brand new specialist services, helping them transform the lives of those suffering from poor mental health.’

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No evidence council breached laws after waste found in Malaysian tip

An independent audit has found that recycling sacks issued by Milton Keynes Council appeared in a Malaysian refuse tip through misuse rather than any deliberate act by the council or its contractors. The location of the sacks became apparent in June when the BBC broadcast documentary ‘War on Plastic’ showed recycling bags from Milton Keynes and other councils in a high pile of waste exported to Malaysia for disposal. The council commissioned a consultant to investigate the issue, who later concluded there was no evidence the council or its contractors breached the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The consultant further reasoned that it would be impossible for the council to discover the destinations of the millions of sacks it issued each year as a number of them would not enter its waste system. Emma Darlington, a cabinet member for the public realm stated, ‘The report looks in great detail into our supply chain and into the actions of our contractors and confirms that we do not export waste to Malaysia’.

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£100k+ fine following council-led prosecution over swimming pool incident

A caravan site business has been ordered to pay fines, costs and a victim surcharge totally £103,120 after a swimmer was found unconscious in a swimming pool. North Norfolk District Council prosecuted following an investigation into an incident which found that a swimmer was underwater for more than five minutes before being rescued by other swimmers. Another business, Foley and Baugh Associates, was ordered to pay a total of £5,137 in connection with the same incident. Both businesses pleaded guilty to failing to discharge their general health, safety and welfare obligations. Woodlands Caravan Site (Trimingham) Ltd which operated and managed the pool was found guilty of breaching the duty it owed to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that swimmers were not exposed to the risks of drowning.

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Planning and housing


Allocation of social housing excluding the ‘vulnerable’

A study by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) confirmed fears that due to a shortage of social housing, councils and housing associations are now rationing their housing stock. The research suggests the process for social housing allocation is now excluding some of the most vulnerable people. It warns that ‘our welfare safety net is no longer fit for purpose’ due to failures to build sufficient number of homes for those in need and that the current shortage ‘leaves housing providers having to find a balance between people in acute need, local priorities and their need to develop sustainable tenancies. Faye Greaves of CIH said that we found is that relying solely on processes can end up having the opposite effect to that intended.’ She pushed councils to prioritise applicants’ unique circumstances and history when making decisions about whether someone can access a list. The CIH policy and practice officer has been praised for reminding councils of the risk of relying on processes alone and providing good examples of how to avoid them.

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Scotland housing supply increases 15% for sixth year running

New figures show Scotland’s housing supply has increased 15% in 2018-19. This amounts to 22,273 new housing units or 2,953 more homes than the previous year, including new builds, refurbishments and conversions. The Annual Housing statistics reveal that housing association new builds specifically increased by 33% (1,041 homes) whereas private-led new builds increased by 21% (2,679 homes). However, council new builds decreased by 3%, refurbishments 67% and net conversions by 10%. Overall in 2018-19 21,292 new builds were completed in Scotland, with a notable 21% increase from the previous year’s 17,623. This year has seen the first annual increase in housing stock since 1980, with the increase of council dwellings in Scotland of 1,192 to 315,625.

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Council passes motion of no confidence over impact of climate change on coast

Arun District Council have passed a motion of no confidence in its own local plan amid concerns over the impact of climate change on the coastal plain. The plan was adopted under the previous Conservative administration, but after a change of administration the now Liberal Democrat cabinet has passed a motion opposing housebuilding on a coastal plain. The council expressed concerns that Arun was ‘uniquely unsuitable for large scale development’ due to increasing flood risks and called on the government to introduce a moratorium on large scale development in the area. The underlying objective behind the moratorium is to hold off development until the impact of climate change on the coastal plain can adequately be assessed.

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Statistical Data Return issues details on social housing rent levels

The second release of Statistical Data Return (SDR) 2018-19 was published by the Regulator of Social Housing last week. The report demonstrated a reduction in the average rent for general needs social housing in England and highlighted the significant difference in rent levels across regions. The private registered providers of social housing with 1,000 or more units/ bed spaces have reported an average rent of £95.12 per week for the general needs rental stock properties that they own. This release highlighted a reduction of 1.3% since 2018, whilst recognising increases in service charges have meant gross rents have seen a lesser reduction. Affordable Rent rents for general needs units have also reduced since 2018, whilst average service charges in England for supported housing increased by 5% between 2018 and 2019. The final release by the SDR will be published on 10 October 2019.

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Upcoming seminars

As you may well know we run a programme of seminars on a wide range of topics. Listed below are those seminars coming up which we feel may be of interest to you. Please click on the links for further information and to book your place. You can see our full programme of upcoming events by clicking here.

Housing Management Law School – Autumn Term 2019

Join us at the next Ward Hadaway Housing Management Law School taking place this Autumn. Autumn term will bring with it a brand new programme where our social housing experts will update you on the most recent news and topics that you need to know about from both a legal and practical perspective.

Wednesday 9th October (Newcastle)

Thursday 10th October (Leeds)

Thursday 17th October (Manchester)

HR and employment law update

Hear from Ward Hadaway’s employment specialists who will ensure that you are kept up-to-date with the latest developments in employment law.

Thursday 28th November (Middlesbrough)

Annual procurement law update 2019

These seminars are designed to provide you with a unique opportunity to hear first-hand from our leading procurement experts who will share their thoughts on the most topical issues of the moment.

Thursday 28th November (AM) (Newcastle)

Thursday 28th November (PM) (Newcastle)

If you have any questions about the issues raised in this update, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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