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Local Authority round-up 11/06/21

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.

Commercial

Funding announced for 30 towns in England

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced that thirty towns in England will share £725 million to boost their local economies, create jobs and help them build back better from the pandemic. The towns include Hartlepool which will receive £25 million to build a new Health and Care Academy and a Civil Engineering Institute and Hereford which will receive £22.4 million to introduce a fleet of electric buses and regenerate the museum, library and art gallery into a unique modern visitor attraction. Mr Jenrick said “Today I am announcing new town deals in 30 areas, backed by over £725 million investment from the Towns Fund. This will support locally-led projects to transform disused buildings and public spaces, deliver new green transport and create new opportunities for people to develop new skills. This is a boost for communities and businesses across England.”

For more information please click here.

Report calls for long-term funding settlement for councils

A new report from the County Councils Network and IMPOWER, ‘Riding The Waves: strengthening council resilience,’ has argued that councils need a long-term funding settlement in this year’s Spending Review to boost post-pandemic resilience. This is based on evidence from over 100 sector experts including council chief executives, leaders, and senior councillors. However, it also argues that delivering on successful economic recovery strategies, revised budgets, and postponed service transformation projects could be challenging for councils whose workforce is exhausted by the pandemic and those with inadequate central resource to co-ordinate efforts.

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Regulatory

Councils must focus on charity’s overall activities and purposes when assessing business rates relief for multiple premises

The Court of Appeal has considered the proper approach to determining whether a charity operating from multiple premises within different councils was entitled to mandatory relief from non-domestic rates under section 43(6)(a) of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (LGFA 1988). The healthcare charity, Nuffield Health, ran hospitals, medical centres and gyms. Its primary method of fundraising was to charge fees for its products and services. The council refused mandatory rate relief on one of the charity’s gyms on the basis that it was not being used wholly or mainly for charitable purposes within section 43(6)(a) of LGFA 1988. It was argued that the existence of facilities such as a members-only car park, creche, spa and refreshment area meant that the premises were being used for fundraising through membership fees and the council appealed against the High Court’s decision that rates relief should have been given. The Court of Appeal held that when assessing “public benefit” for the purposes of section 43(6)(a) of LGFA 1988, the focus was on the charity’s overall activities and purposes, not on the activities at its individual sites. It also said that the relevant question was whether the charity was using the particular hereditament for its charitable purposes, not whether the activity carried on at that particular hereditament would qualify as a charitable activity in its own right. Councils therefore had only to enquire whether the charity was using the relevant premises for its specified charitable purposes; they did not need to satisfy themselves that a public benefit was being delivered at those premises. The Court of Appeal ruled that the High Court had erred in fact and in law in its view that the requirement was satisfied.

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International Trade

UK reaches agreement in principle on new trade agreement with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein

The Department for International Trade (DIT) announced that it had reached an agreement in principle for a new trade agreement with Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein. The trade deal will allow electronic documents, contracts and signatures which will allow goods to move easily across borders and will save businesses time and money. It will also reduce tariff imports on goods such as cheese, pork, poultry, UK wine and spirits and shrimp, prawns and haddock. The deal also allows caps on mobile operator chargers to keep costs low and also allows high-skilled professionals to enter Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein for business purposes. International Trade Minister, Ranil Jayawardena said “This deal shows that the United Kingdom will continue to be a trade partner of choice, as we set the global trade agenda in areas like e-commerce and climate change. More trade and more investment will drive growth and support jobs in every corner of our country.” The new agreement has not yet been published,

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Process for UK to accede to CPTPP commenced

The parties to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) have agreed a formal decision to commence an accession process with the UK and to establish an Accession Working Group to conduct accession negotiations with the UK. The CPTPP is a comprehensive trade agreement covering various areas, including trade in goods and services, investment (including provision for investor-state dispute settlement), digital trade, government procurement, competition policy, subsidy control, intellectual property, labour and environmental standards, and state-to-state dispute settlement. It first entered into force in December 2018 and it currently has 11 parties: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The UK government announced that it will work closely with Japan, as this year’s chair of the CPTPP commission, alongside the other CPTPP parties to progress negotiations as quickly as possible, and will publish its outline approach, scoping assessment and consultation response before negotiations start in the coming weeks.

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UK-EU talks on Northern Ireland Protocol end without agreement

Talks between the UK and the EU on the implementation of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in Northern Ireland have broken up without an agreement. Brexit Minister Lord David Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic ended their discussions in London with no sign of a breakthrough. Exports of sausages and other chilled meats from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will effectively be banned at the end of June when the six-month grace period which was agreed post Brexit comes to an end. The UK has said it is ready to ignore the ban however the EU has threatened legal action and quotas or tariffs if the UK does this. Lord Frost said “There weren’t any breakthroughs, there weren’t any breakdowns either and we are going to carry on talking. What we really now need to do is very urgently find some solutions, which support the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, Support the peace process in Northern Ireland and allow things to return to normal.”

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Planning and housing

£30 million funding to create new homes and jobs

The government has announced £30 million of funding which will see 160 projects supported across England with the aim of delivering over 17,000 new homes, 19,000 new jobs and save taxpayers £34 million. One Public Estate has awarded £30m to successful cross-public sector projects as part of its levelling up agenda and the Land Release Fund will award £4 million to councils in order to redevelop a large number of council brownfield sites for housing. Councillor James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said “One Public Estate will play a crucial role in supporting the local and national economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. This funding will support local authorities to make better use of their assets, release surplus land for new homes and help join up local services.”

For more information please click here.

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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