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Local Authority round-up 06/07/19

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.


No-deal Brexit would need Commons approval says Starmer

Shadow minister Keir Starmer has commissioned research by the House of Commons library experts who have said that the Government would still be required to bring legislation before Parliament in order to ratify the withdrawal agreement which MPs would then reject or amend.  They further noted that “the UK cannot in any meaningful sense ‘implement’ individual parts of the withdrawal agreement otherwise than by primary legislation.”  Starmer has therefore said that “Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan is a non-starter. If he tries to force through a bad deal or a no-deal Brexit then Parliament will do everything it can to stand in his way.”  He further said “Labour will work with all sides, even former members of Theresa May’s cabinet, to protect the country from a no-deal Brexit.”

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Hammond is prepared to vote against a no-deal Brexit in Parliament

Chancellor Philip Hammond has claimed that a no-deal Brexit could cost the UK up to £90 billion and signalled that he would be prepared to vote against it.  He further noted that it would be up to MPs to ensure that a no-deal Brexit did not happen.  He expressed concerns that leaving the EU without a legal agreement would cause a huge problem for public finances and said this would be the “wrong” policy.

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The Northern Irish backstop “has to change or has to go” says Hunt

The Northern Irish backstop remains the most controversial part of the deal Theresa May negotiated with the EU and is a position of last resort to prevent any new checks or controls on the Irish border after Brexit.  Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has reaffirmed his promise of there being no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and said the backstop presented the UK with the “unacceptable choice” between “abandoning the ability to govern ourselves” or to “give up control of the Government of Northern Ireland.”

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Hunt sets no deal deadline of 30 September

Jeremy Hunt has said that if he is elected Prime Minister he would engage with EU leaders in August in the hope of negotiating a new Brexit deal.  He would then deliver a provisional “no-deal Brexit budget” in early September and then give the EU three weeks after which he would abandon talks and move to a no-deal Brexit if there was no “immediate prospect” of progress with the EU.

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The Brexit ‘war chest’

Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged in his spring statement this year that £26.6 billion would be available for the economy if MPs voted to leave the EU with a deal later this year.  This means that there would be additional scope to borrow an extra amount up to £26.6 billion whilst staying within self-imposed limits on Government borrowing.  The Tory leadership candidates have both set out plans on how this money would be used however Mr Hammond felt that a no-deal Brexit would use this money up before they had a chance to call on it.  Jeremy Hunt wants to use some of the money to increase defence spending over the next five years but it is unclear whether this fund would be available over such time and he has also promised more money in other areas such as social care and cuts incorporation tax amounting to around £37-65 billion, much more that what is on offer.  Boris Johnson would use the money to part fund a higher income tax rate and increase investment in special needs education.

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£394.5 million investment for Borderlands councils

Five councils across the border of England and Scotland are to receive up to £394.5 million in investments as part of a deal which has been agreed for the region to accelerate economic development, create jobs and encourage future investment in the area. Up to £265 million will be invested by the Government, £85 million from the Scottish Government and the remainder will come from other partners. Scottish Secretary David Mundell said “It’s fantastic news that the UK Government is to invest up to £265 million in the Borderlands deal. This is an ambitious approach to cross-border working between governments, local authorities and partners which will boost economic growth by helping existing business, encouraging new ventures and bringing a wealth.”

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Minister announces £100,000 to boost town centres

Four local communities have successfully applied to receive a share of £100,000 under the Business Improvement Districts Loan Fund, which will support business owners and local leaders, and bring communities together to deliver additional local services and transform commercial areas. High Streets Minister, Jake Berry MP, said “Business Improvement Districts in partnership with local authorities, developers and communities, are working hard to champion town centres, by deciding what improvements they want to see, how these will be managed and what it will cost.” The funding is to be user to help make the local areas more attractive for business by improving high streets and town centres.

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Funding launched to transform historic buildings

The £15 million Transforming Places Through Heritage Fund opened by the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) will be available from July. It will fund local projects which aim to create alternative uses including creative spaces, offices, retail outlets and housing for underutilised historic buildings a part of the High Street Heritage Action Zones and Future High Streets Fund. Chief Executive of AHF Matthew Mckeague said “With the right support, thriving social enterprises and charitable ventures can inject new life into our great but underused buildings, and begin to reimagine and re-establish our high streets as places of social and commercial prosperity, and common identity.”

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Proposals for tougher penalties on idling drivers

The Government has announced plans for a consultation which will look to impose tougher penalties on vehicle idling and increased fines for drivers who leave their engine running while parked. Whilst councils already have the power to fine drivers, the public consultation will look to increase those fines to try and put a stop to unnecessary air pollution, and would also provide guidance to councils on their anti-idling powers. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said, “We are determined to crack down on drivers who pollute our communities by leaving their engines running, particularly outside school gates where our children are breathing in this toxic air. Putting a stop to idling is an easy way to drive down dangerously high levels of pollution, reducing its impact on the environment and our health.” The consultation is expected to launch this summer.

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Ombudsman urges councils to check procedures when dealing with people with ‘hidden disabilities’

Following the publication of three separate investigation reports into London councils which highlighted councils not doing enough to enable someone to use their services, The Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman (Ombudsman) has called on councils to check their procedures to avoid disadvantaging people with ‘hidden disabilities.’ As a result of those investigations, two councils have agreed to apologise to the people involved and make changes to their policies and procedures to ensure people with hidden disabilities are not treated in the same way in future. Ombudsman, Michael King, said “The Equality Act 2010 requires councils to anticipate the needs of people who may need to access their services. This means when councils are alerted to the fact someone might need to be treated in a different way, they should ask that person what adjustments are needed, and consider whether these are reasonable.”

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Planning and housing

Green mortgages could help cut costs of bills

The Government has announced a £5 million fund to help with the development of green home finance products, including green mortgages, which will give customers discounted mortgage rates if they upgrade the energy rating of their home. This could result in lower mortgage rates and cut energy bills. It is also hoped that it will reduce emissions from homes as part of the Government’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. Energy and Clean Growth Minister Chris Skidmore said “By rolling out more green mortgages and reducing the costs of retrofitting older homes we’re encouraging homeowners to improve the efficiency of their homes and save money on their energy bills, helping to ensure everyone has access to a warm and comfortable home.”

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New homes to be sold on freehold basis

Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP has announced plans to abolish the selling of new houses as leasehold properties and to reduce ground rents for new lease to zero in an attempt to tackle unfair leasehold practices.  All new build houses will now be sold as freehold, unless there are exceptional circumstances, to protect new home buyers from unfair charges. Homes England have also been instructed to renegotiate contracts with all Help to Buy developers to rule out the building and selling of leasehold houses. Ministers are also looking at deposit passporting measures to allow renters to transfer deposits between landlords when moving.

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LGA responds to The Accelerated Planning Green Paper

The Government has announced plans under The Accelerated Planning Green Paper which aims to speed up the planning system. The Local Government Association (LGA) has responded to those plans noting they need “to include allowing councils to be able to set their own planning fees, with taxpayers currently having to subsidise the costs of planning applications by around £200 million a year.” The LGA’s Housing spokesman Cllr Martin Tett further said “Scrapping the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap was a big step forward, but Government now needs to go further in the Spending Review by devolving Right to Buy so councils retain 100 per cent of their receipts to reinvest in new homes, and can set discounts locally.”

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LGA reports young people struggling to get on housing ladder

The LGA’s report, ‘Understanding Local Housing Markets,’ suggests that young people today are half as likely to own a home as they were 20 years ago with just 11% of people born in 1996 owning their own home compared with 21% of those born in 1976 owning their own home by the age of 22. The LGA warns that the high cost of private renting is preventing people from being able to save a deposit in order to buy their own home. The LGA has also noted that people are struggling to climb the housing ladder when their circumstances change and figures have shown that mortgaged movers are 50% below 2006/07 levels.

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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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