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Local Authority round-up 31/07/20

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.


Statements following fifth negotiating round

The UK government and the European Commission have published statements on the outcome of the fifth round of negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship which took place between 20 to 23 July 2020.  The statements indicate that, while some progress was made, substantial areas of disagreement remain but both noted that constructive discussions were held on trade in goods and services. Divergences were narrowed in the areas of social security co-ordination and the UK’s participation in EU programmes. The European Commission statement said useful discussions took place on transport and energy but noted the UK government continued to request single market-like benefits.  The European Commission statement reported progress towards the objective of a comprehensive and single institutional framework whilst the UK government’s statement confirmed that the government is ready to consider simpler structures, provided satisfactory terms can be found for dispute settlement and governance, having heard the EU’s concerns about a complex Switzerland-style set of agreements.  The statements noted that considerable gaps remained on the level playing field and fisheries. According to the European Commission statement, the UK government refuses effective means to avoid undercutting by lowering standards in the fields of climate, environment, labour or social law; while no progress was made at all on state aid. The statement added that, by its current refusal to commit to conditions of open and fair competition and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK government makes a trade agreement unlikely.  The next restricted round of negotiations is scheduled for 27 July 2020, and the next full round for the week commencing 17 August 2020. The European Commission has indicated that agreement must be reached in October 2020 at the latest to come into force on 1 January 2021.

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Trade deal “at this point unlikely”

Following the trade talks EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said “By its current refusal to commit to conditions of open and fair competition and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement at this point unlikely.”  However, David Frost said that whilst “considerable gaps” remained in these areas, he still believed a deal could be reached in September but that the government must “face the possibility” one will not be struck.   The two chief negotiators are due to meet informally in London next week and another round of official talks are scheduled for mid-August in Brussels.

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Devolved administrations to receive additional funding

The UK government has announced that the devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will receive a minimum of £3.7 billion in additional funding this year to ensure they can plan for coronavirus response in the months ahead.  Since March they have already been provided with £8.9 billion to help them deal with the coronavirus pandemic.  Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay MP said “At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we said we would do everything we could to support the whole of the UK – whether that’s saving jobs or ensuring our vital NHS has the equipment it needs. And that is exactly what we have done.  Today we go one step further by giving the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the additional certainty they need to plan their own support schemes over the next few months.  This is yet another sign of our support for the Union and commitment to securing an economic recovery for the whole of the United Kingdom.”

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£800,000 for innovative digital projects for councils

The government has announced £800,000 in funding for councils to build on digital advances made during the pandemic.  The funding has been allocated to 11 council-led projects across the country which have introduced innovative digital projects in their areas to help ensure these can be developed and continue.   Projects include one by Newcastle City Council which developed a tool which predicts whether parts of a city are overcrowded which helps the council to understand whether social distancing can be followed.  They have therefore been awarded a further £67,500 to continue the project.  Leeds City Council has also been granted £79,500 to develop a guide for all councils to ensure that people who may struggle with digital technology, especially those who are vulnerable or socially isolated, get the help they need.

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Councils need funding clarity

The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee has called for the government to provide clarity on the support which will be provided to councils ahead of the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic, noting that so far councils were ‘promised’ they would have the resources they need, many are now facing income shortfalls. It said that so far the government has failed to give councils sufficient funding and has urged them to ensure a ‘clear and timely financial settlement’ is given so that councils are able to plan future spending saying that “This is vital if we are to avoid the situation of local authorities getting into acute financial difficulties and having to issue Section 114 notices imposing spending restrictions.”

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Planning and Housing

New design toolkit to focus on healthier communities

Design for Homes and Urban Design Doctor has announced a new design guidance called Building for a Healthy Life which encourages healthier lifestyles to be planned into new housing developments.  The move is being backed by Homes England with Sadie Morgan, a board member of Homes England, saying “The new design guidance is a big step forward in supporting placemaking for healthier, more integrated communities where people want to live and spend time together. We know that the existing guidance has focused developers’ attention on high-quality design and these new guidelines will build on that success.  People’s homes and neighbourhoods have a huge impact on their wellbeing and Homes England is committing to using these new guidelines to ensure that new developments encourage and enable better health.”  Under the new guidelines plans should include improved walking, cycling and public transport links, with reduced carbon emissions and better air quality in order to establish healthier communities.

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Homes created under PDR offer worse residential environments report finds

Researchers from the Bartlett School of Planning, at University College London, have issued a report called Research into the Quality Standard of Homes Delivered Through Change of Use Permitted Development Rights.  In the report, they claim that homes created under permitted development rights conversions offer worse residential environments than those converted under normal planning permission noting that they tended to have smaller or less windows and offered a lot less space.  The Local Government Association has called for permitted development rights to be removed with Councillor David Renard saying “This independent report rightly backs our long-standing concerns over the detrimental impact on local communities of rules allowing home conversions without planning permission. It provides further evidence on why it is more vital than ever that planning should remain local.”

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Hampshire council to deliver 3,500 new homes

Hampshire council has announced a public-private partnership with Basingstoke and Deane BC, developer Urban&Civic and charitable foundation the Wellcome Trust.  As part of the £1.2 billion Manydown Development Vehicle LLP it will be able to build 3,500 new homes, a 250-acre country park, two primary schools, and other local facilities.  Leader of Hampshire CC, Cllr Keith Mans, said “This is an ambitious venture and one of the largest developments in this part of the country, and so it is appropriate that it will be led by such a unique and innovative partnership, of which we are very pleased to be a part.”

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ICO issues toolkit to help public bodies respond to FOI requests

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an online toolkit to help public authorities respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests as organisations prepare to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.  The online toolkit has been designed to help public authorities self-assess their performance in responding to FOI requests and generates a bespoke report which helps to identify areas for improvement and where action needs to be taken.  Deborah Clark, ICO Group Manager Insight and Compliance, said “This toolkit is a practical way for public authorities to assess where they are now and what they can do to improve as they return to greater capacity.  We hope it will become a staple part of FOI practitioners’ continual learning and that it will help promote good practice, which will contribute to building trust and confidence with the public.”

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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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