You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Eric Pickles’ tag.
It’s been a tumultuous year for British politics.
The 13-year Labour reign came to an end, and for the first time in 36 years Britain witnessed a hung parliament. David Cameron and Nick Clegg married in the Downing Street rose garden, promising “new politics”, and Ed Miliband became the youngest Labour leader since World War II.
In recent months protesters have taken to the streets to vent their hatred towards the rise in tuition fee rises and the slashing of EMA. The coalition darling, Vince Cable, fell from grace this week after divulging too much to what he thought were two constituents.
Political memoirs have proliferated, as Brown, Blair and Mandelson reflect on their time in government. Britain witnessed the first televised leaders debates, followed by ‘Clegg-mania’ and a more American-style election culture. As Michael Jeremy, ITV’s Director of News, Current Affairs and Sport, told students during his lecture last month, this was an unprecedented event which has totally transformed the way voters engage with politics. After 15 drafts and countless compromises, Clegg Cameron and Brown finally took to the stage and debated in public. Hailed by Jeremy as a “success for a democracy”, the debates are probably the most significant development in coverage of British political life.
So what does the future hold for those walking the corridors of power?
Miliband will be pressed to formulate an alternative strategy, after being mocked by the Tories on a weekly basis in the panto that is Prime Minister’s Questions.
The Lib Dems are likely to come under increasing pressure from voters, as they backtrack on the promises they made on the campaign trail. Accused of being “held hostage” by the coalition government, the Lib Dems will need to carve out their own identity, and restore people’s faith in the party, which many predict will split and splinter. Clegg looks set to be in dire need of some tweezers.
The Tories’ concept of the “Big Society” has gone down like a lead balloon, with widespread confusion about what the idea actually means. Eric Pickle’s desire to empower “communities” and cut the red tape has raised eyebrows, as the logistics of the plans come under scrutiny. It does, however, look set to dominate the 2011 agenda.
The brutality of the VAT rise and cuts to local government will come to fruition next year, as thousands more lose their jobs and homes.
Who knows what the future holds for our politicians, but it will be fascinating to see the melodrama unfold. ‘Clameron’ is keen to convince voters we’ve moved into an era of “new politics”, but voters don’t seem to have bought it. The public’s opposition has dominated the news agenda in recent months, and the sense of betrayal is mounting. But of course voters have a short memory, and it remains to be seen whether the newlyweds will be forgiven at the next ballot box.
Leisure services, parks and libraries across England are likely to suffer, as councils are to face cuts of almost 10% next year in their core central government funding.
Speaking in the House of Commons today, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced that councils will lose much of the financial support they receive from central government.
Pickles announced an average 4.4% cut in the spending power of councils next year, and said the “formula grant” from Whitehall would be reduced by 9.9% in 2011/2012 and by 7.3% in 2012/2013.
But he did not give the exact figures for cuts to councils’ revenue support grant.
As it stands, local authorities in England are funded in two main ways: through central government grants (which include redistributed business rates), and council tax.
Central government grant money pays for capital projects, such as roads or school buildings, as well as revenue spending, such as the cost of maintaining council housing and running services.
Local authorities currently receive three types of central government revenue grants to fund local services:
1) The first are specific grants, which pay for individual services, such as key government priorities. This money is ring-fenced and must be used in the way specified.
2) The second are area-based grants, which pay for services deemed by a council and its partners to be local priorities.
3) The third are formula grants, which are calculated using mathematical formulae based on, among other things, the local council tax base and how many people rely on local services. These will be reduced by 9.9% in 2011/2012.
Bristol council buildings
Councils in England are going to lose a big chunk of the financial support they receive from central government, as government support is to be cut by 27% over the next four years.
That is a cut of several billion pounds in their primary source of income. Comparable cuts are also expected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The hardest hit areas will lose 8.9% of their spending power for two years. These include Ashfield, Great Yarmouth, Barrow-in-Furness, Hastings, Bolsover, Hyndburn, Burnley, Pendle, Chesterfield, Preston, Copeland, and Thanet.
Pickles did however promise that no local authority would undergo a decrease of more than 8.9% in 2011/12, as a result of the grant reductions.
He also said £650mn would be set aside so every council could freeze council tax without hitting local services. The government will provide those who freeze council tax with the equivalent of a 2.5% increase in funding.
Furthermore, Pickles promised to help protect frontline budgets by providing £200m to help councils modernise and cut back office costs.
The government is also proposing a Localism Bill, which aims to empower local residents and communities so they, not the state, take more responsibility for services and decision-making.
Forming a key part of the government’s “big society” agenda, the Bill will give local people and organisations the right to buy community assets like shops and pubs. It will also allow them to overrule planning decisions, empower them to create directly elected mayors in 12 cities, and allow them to approve or veto “excessive” council tax rises.
Pickles said today: “The Localism Bill will deliver a new democratic settlement to councils, overturning decades of central government control.
“The Bill will fundamentally change councils’ freedom to act in the interest of their local communities through a new general power of competence.”
Concerns have been raised, however, about how this agenda can be achieved without more money.
Paul Brant, Labour deputy leader of Liverpool Council, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “Some of these reported powers are illusory. The government is making savage cuts to local government finance… Without the money, some services will just fall off the edge.”
Leisure services, parks and playgrounds are likely to be affected
Shadow communities secretary, Caroline Flint, told the BBC: “Today we find out what the government really plans to devolve to local councils – the most devastating cuts in funding for a generation and the blame for difficult decisions.”
Homeowners will be free to build extensions, add a storey or conservatory to their properties, or build driveways without planning permission, under new government proposals.
The proposals, which will pass a number of planning responsibilities from councils to official local groups, will give people greater control over developments in their area.
Homeowners are expected to be able to make changes to their properties without receiving planning permission.
They will also be given the power to approve or reject proposals for new housing developments, schools and other public buildings in their area.
Groups of householders will be able to apply to local authorities to be recognised as “neighbourhoods”, covering a group of streets or larger areas.
These groups could then prepare “neighbourhood plans”, which would be put to referendums. If approved, their plans would then have to be accepted by the council.
They would also be able to draw up agreed lists of categories of developments, called “neighbourhood development orders”, that individual householders could carry out without planning permission.
These could include extra storeys, conservatories, loft conversions and other extensions, front driveways and wind turbines.
But they would not be able to break national planning laws or ban large-scale projects, such as high-speed rail links or new nuclear power stations, from their areas.
Financial incentives, including council tax rebates, will be given to communities which agree to new homes being built.
The plans form part of the Localism Bill, due to be published within days by Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary.
Greg Clark, the minister for decentralisation, told The Sunday Telegraph ministers believe the planning system is too bureaucratic.
Last year local authorities spent 13% more in real terms on planning than they did five years previously, despite a 32% drop in the number of applications.
“This Government has ambitious proposals to make the [planning] system fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” he said. “Above all, we want to change the philosophy behind local planning. We want to move away from a system with significant elements of imposition from above, to one with participation and involvement at its heart – not just warm words, or a commitment in principle, but real opportunities for people to have a say.
“We also want to move away from a system that seeks to resolve the different needs of different groups at a local level by imposing choices from above, towards one which enables a mature debate at local level.”
The Bill is an important component of the Government’s plan for the “Big Society”.
The 2009 Conservative Localism Green Paper, Control Shift: Returning power to local communities, and their 2010 manifesto, laid out plans to move power “away from the central state and firmly back to local people.”
After the General Election the coalition Government published a briefing note, Building the Big Society, in which they promised to give communities more powers, and encourage people to take an active role in their communities.
These planning reforms build on those introduced under Labour. In 2006 local authorities were told to allow more building within greenbelt boundaries to ease the housing shortage. Councils were also told they should fast-track plans for simple home extensions.
To free up the planning process, the Coalition has also made it easier to build on back gardens, and has ditched “minimum density targets” which stipulated that at least 30 homes be built on every hectare of land to be developed.
The plans are likely to spark intense debate about encroaching on land, and critics have already highlighted problems with the plan.
Speaking of the idea to allow locals to draw up “neighbourhood plans”, Mark Wadsworth writes: “How’s that going to work? What if there are two such groups in the same geographic area – who decides which group is entitled to draw up the “neighbourhood plan”?
“Whatever system they invent is going to lead to the planning system grinding to a halt – which I suppose is the whole intention.”