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CENTRAL LOCAL PARTNERSHIP Minutes of the meeting held on 22 January 2003 at Eland House Government Deputy Prime Minister - Chair Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP, Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Barbara Roche MP, Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Christopher Leslie MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Tony McNulty MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Rt Hon Paul Boateng MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rt Hon Alun Michael MP, Minister of State at Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Rt Hon John Spellar MP, Minister of State at Department For Transport Rosie Winterton MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary, Lord Chancellor’s Department Rt Hon Richard Caborn MP Minister of State Department For Culture, Media and Sport Malcolm Wicks MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Work at the Department for Work and Pensions Rt Hon Dr John Reid Labour Party Chairman Jacqui Smith MP, Minister of State at the Department of Health Ivan Lewis, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Education and Skills Mavis McDonald CBE, Permanent Secretary, ODPM Alasdair McGowan No 10 Policy Unit Peter Kane OPSR Philip Wood, Director General, Local Government Andrew Whetnall, Director, Local Government Clive Norris Kevin Lloyd Phil Carey Ian McKenzie Julie Burt Deputy Prime Minister’s Private Secretary Leigh Bura Iain Sear Christine Close From the Local Government Association Cllr Sir Jeremy Beecham (LGA Chairman) Cllr Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart OBE (LGA Vice-Chairman) Cllr Mark Edgell Cllr Peter Chalke CBE Cllr Chris Clarke OBE (LGA Vice-Chairman) Cllr Ruth Coleman Cllr Sir Harry Jones CBE Cllr Dame Sally Powell DBE Cllr Ian Swithenbank CBE Cllr Milner Whiteman OBE (LGA Vice-Chairman) Cllr Gordon Keymer CBE Sir Brian Briscoe Chief Executive Phil Swann Director of Strategy and Communications Neil Kinghan Director Economic and Environmental Policy John Rees Director of Central Services Marie Evernden Gillian Enlund Mandy Skinner Apologies from: Rt Hon Lord Rooker Alan Johnson MP Rt Hon David Blunkett MP Introduction 1. The Central Local Partnership expressed sympathy for Lord Rooker’s recent bereavement. 2. The Deputy Prime Minister welcomed everyone and began by outlining plans on the day’s announcement to modernise Right to Buy. Local authorities were key players and should be amongst the first to know. The Government remained fully committed to the scheme but it needed updating in order to meet the needs of modern housing markets and to underpin the key priorities in the Communities Plan. The maximum discount available to tenants would now be £16,000 and would apply to no more than 42 local authority areas. The Government would consult those authorities and give them opportunity to argue for opting out of the proposed reduction. 3. The Deputy Prime Minister added that, with immediate effect, it would now be made easier for local authorities to seek to designate rural areas for special restrictions on the Right to Buy. Areas with no second home problem or with smallish market towns could also be covered by restrictions on resales of Right to Buy properties. 4. Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham welcomed the moves for rural areas and asked whether it would be possible for other local authorities to opt in. The Deputy Prime Minister said it would be for local authorities to make a judgement about their own involvement. 5. The Deputy Prime Minister thought it might also be useful to provide an update on the fire dispute, given that the Government is responsible for resourcing the Service but he made clear that this should not be seen in any way as directing the fire services employers. The dispute should be settled through negotiations between the two sides. The Government was committed to taking forward the Bain Report. The Government was pressing on with the Repeal of section 19 of the 1947 Fire Services Act through the Local Government Bill. The Government would soon issue for consultation revised guidance on a new approach to fire cover, drawn up by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire Services. The Fire Service Inspectorate was being modernised and restructured to fulfil its new responsibilities putting in place new structures to drive forward reform. A White Paper on which the Government would work with the LGA would follow later in the year, followed by legislation at the earliest opportunity. Finally, a new forum would be established of fire and other emergency service leaders. Summing up, the Deputy Prime Minister said that central Government would need to work closely with fire authorities to help drive forward the modernisation agenda. 6. Councillor Peter Chalke raised the issue of distribution of resources; in particular it would be more difficult to secure savings in rural areas where there was much greater reliance on retained fire fighters. The Deputy Prime Minister noted this but stressed that it was a matter for the employers to put forward a case effect. Item 1 Communities Plan 7. The Deputy Prime Minister emphasised that the Communities Plan was not a White Paper. It was a comprehensive programme of action that would address the problem of the decline in social housing and set out priorities for the next three years of expenditure. The LGA would receive a copy of the Plan before the launch, which was likely to take place during the first week in February. The Deputy Prime Minister added that (if necessary), he was happy for the Communities Plan Sub-Group to reconvene before publication of the Communities Plan, or for other ways to be found to ensure a constructive dialogue if the LGA would find it helpful. 8. Tony McNulty fed back from the two meetings of the Sub-Group on sustainable communities held in November. Overall, it was important to consider the main elements that constituted sustainable communities and to identify the inhibitors to development, particularly in terms of new housing in areas of high demand and of redevelopment in low demand areas. Some of these problems would be addressed through the current planning system. The Minister was encouraged by the shared desire to respond to the challenges and congratulated local government on its involvement such as in the low demand pathfinders A joint approach would drive the agenda forward and inform developments within the Communities Plan. In terms of content, the coverage of the Plan would broadly be the same as for the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement to the House on 18 July. The core of the plan would be tackling long-term supply and demand issues in the housing market, so tackling low demand, abandonment and progressing the growth areas would be prominent. The plan would also cover delivery of existing plans for new housing in high demand areas. Policies for delivering the 2010 decent homes target have been reviewed and the Plan would reflect the conclusions of that review. The Plan would also look beyond the social sector to conditions in private housing. The success of the Plan would be centrally dependent. Local government and the Government would work closely with councils and other stakeholders. 9. Cllr Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart acknowledged the shared ambition to carry the Communities Plan agenda forward. The LGA and Ministers shared common aspirations for sustainable, strong communities. There was a need to create the highest quality of build and community infra structure in both the renewal of abandoned areas and in growth areas. Setting targets was one step but other factors had to be considered. The provision of employment was particularly important in creating sustainable communities. Funding was a crucial issue. Once funds were allocated to housing, the housing stock itself was relatively straightforward to improve, but it was vital that funds were accompanied by funding for improvement in schools, health, transport leisure facilities and employment at the same time. There needed to be sustained investment. 10. The Minister of State, Department of Culture, Media and Sport said that the development of Planning and Guidance for Open Spaces (PPG 17) demonstrated the importance of getting all the component sectors working together. 11. Cllr Dame Sally Powell agreed that the improvement in housing needed to be supported by an improvement in wider infrastructure and it was important that there was a cross-departmental commitment to building sustainable communities. 12. In summing up, the Deputy Prime Minister agreed that housing was a priority but hoped that lessons had been learnt from the past about the need for investment across the piece. The Select Committee had made it clear that more investment is needed. The Prime Minister was chairing a committee on the development of the Thames Gateway demonstrating the commitment of Government at the highest level. Whilst the Government would provide some funding there remains a need to consider innovative measures to increase the amount of funding available. The Communities Plan Sub-Group would continue to take work forward on developing the plan and in its effective delivery. ITEM 2 COMPREHENSIVE PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENTS- NEXT STEPS 13. The Minister for Local Government welcomed the focus of the papers before the meeting on identifying the next stages for moving forward together. The Government remained committed to developing the new framework for freedoms and flexibilities and was pressing on with the necessary follow-up work though the Local Government Bill through statutory instruments and grant reports to remove plans and ring-fencing. He added that development of the Innovations Forum for excellent authorities would enable discussions to develop more ambitious freedoms and flexibilities The Minister recognised the key role that the local government had to play in improving the performance of individual authorities but emphasised that the Government shared local government’s commitment . Lead officials were already in placeto take forward an improvement programme with “weak” local authorities. He explained that the precise split for the first year allocation of £40m for capacity and support had not been set. However, it was likely that the allocation for capacity building (including Beacons) was likely to be£29m with £11m for work associated with the weak authorities. The Minister hoped to be able to expand this programme in the future, or hoped that it would be done with matched funding by the LGA. Finally, he added that he was pleased that the intervention protocol was very close to agreement. 14. Cllr Sir Jeremy Beecham acknowledged the good progress that had been made and welcomed the good working relationship enjoyed by central and local government. The LGA were keen to ensure that the Intervention Protocol was agreed quickly. 15. Cllr Sir Jeremy Beecham welcomed the opportunity to develop freedoms and flexibilities more ambitiously through the Innovations Forum; however, the sooner the existing freedoms came into play the better. He suggested that it might be useful to exploit the experience of LPSAs. It was important that freedoms such as the three-year inspection holiday announced for excellent councils should not be undermined by any additional forms of inspection. He recognised that CPAs for Districts would need to be different but said it was essential that they were delivered in a satisfactory way. 16. Councillor Peter Chalke said that the support of the County Council’s Network for counties needing assistance would continue and reported that 122 council leaders had signed up to their improvement programme to date. He asked if there was an intention to extend the £18m joint fund. 17. Councillor Chris Clarke commented that greater clarity was required to overcome any difficulties and regulate the unfair competition arising from the limitation on the power to charge for services to cost recovery. The Minister for Local Government agreed that there was a balance to be struck related to competition and thought this was an issue in which more work could be done. 18. Councillor Chris Clarke also thought that there was scope for authorities to be able to market the broad band capabilities that were available to them to enable citizen access. 19. Councillor Harry Jones envisaged some form of Beacons role for the 22 excellent authorities. He asked what stimuli could be provided for weaker authorities adding that improvements in specific service areas ought to be recognised. 20. Councillor Milner Whiteman was concerned about CPA for districts and the costs of the exercise for districts that were smaller organisations than counties or unitary authorities. It was important for districts to see the benefits of the process; for example, would they be eligible for increased freedoms and flexibilities. 21. Councillor Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart welcomed the potential benefits to be had from excellent authorities working together through the Innovations Forum but considered that it was necessary to look wider. Cascading these freedoms to other authorities should be the object, particularly to councils with a proven record to meet targets across a range of services. He believed it was a question of trust. The crucial question was whether Government would be prepared to move on minimum standards and if that would allow authorities to achieve more locally. He wishes to see local authorities have a bigger role for a wider range of targets. Given the democratic accountability for authorities, they could play a wider role in joining up government at a local level. 22. Councillor Gordon Keymer believed there was a possibility of two groups emerging consisting of “excellent” authorities on one hand and remaining authorities on the other. He was concerned that lead officials would decide whether local authorities had the ability to improve or not. He also believed that there should be an ability to appeal against the Audit Commissions CPA classifications. He voiced concerns amongst districts that the proposed CPA methodology for them was still uncertain. 23. Councillor Mark Edgell said it was vital that weaker authorities had the incentive to improve. An appropriate structure for refreshing/updating assessments was required, Councillor Dame Sally Powell said it was important that activity linked to CPA refresh was proportionate particularly for the better performers. She added that the capacity of middle management in authorities was crucial. It was important to attract good quality graduates and to appeal to a wide range of potential recruits, including from the private sector. 24. Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham reported an improvement in graduate recruitment rates to the local government employment sector. 25. The Minister for Local Government, summarising the discussion, said that the Audit Commission were approaching CPAs for districts in much the same way as for the upper tier. He added that some adaptation to the methodology was likely if the Commission was to be responsive to feedback received from the pathfinders. He felt it might be useful to have a stock take event similar to that held on the development of methodology for the upper tier authorities. The Minister agreed that it was vital that CPA refresh provided local authorities with the incentive to improve but that it was necessary to avoid the uncertainty of constant re- assessment. Refreshment would be an annual process but would not be a final reassessment. The Audit Commission would be consulting on the Refresh methodology in March. The right of local authorities to appeal remained a matter for the Audit Commission. However he stressed that it was essential to avoid focusing energies on changing the rules rather than the embracing the fundamental principle of the framework which was to improve. 26. The Minister went on to emphasise that he hoped input to capacity funding could be maximised through match funding where possible. The concept of the lead official was one that had developed through practical experience with authorities. Lead officials were crucial to a coherent framework for improvement planning and he looked forward to constructive relationships developing. Finally, he stressed that the Innovations Forum should work creatively on freedoms and flexibilities. 27. The Deputy Prime Minister concluded the discussion by highlighting that the aim was to see improvement throughout local government and that everyone had their role to play within that. He looked forward to a quick agreement of the Intervention Protocol. ITEM 3 SHARED PRIORITIES FOR PUBLIC SERVICES 28. The Deputy Prime Minister began by saying that the shared priorities for public services agreed to in July 2002 was a major step forward and demonstrated the joint commitment to effective delivery. 29. The Minister for Local Government agreed it was important for central and local government to work together with other departments and partners. Now that the shared priorities have been agreed there is now a need to focus on particular steps that can be taken to improve performance in these areas and then this should be available to others so that good practice can be shared in a way that is most useful. The proposed set of pathfinder projects were based on action learning through workshops and exploration of issues on the ground. Each pathfinder would involve about six authorities, relevant Departments and relevant partner organisations and would focus on one of four issues that had been identified for an initial tranche of work. The first topic would be local environment, and would focus on a clean, green and safe local environment reflecting its importance to tackling anti-social behaviour. The second was that of health inequalities, and would identify specific measures that can be taken by councils, the health sector and other local agencies in working together to close the health gap. The third would look at the wider role of council services in supporting pupils as well as the more direct practical support provided by LEA’s. The fourth would look at ways of building safer and stronger communities, identifying factors and practical steps that had led to good performance against local targets including the performance of crime and disorder reduction partnerships. 30. Cllr Sir Jeremy Beecham said that the LGA very much supported the work on shared priorities. There were some significant interactions between the proposed topics, which might also need to be addressed. There were crucial roles for Government departments to play but it was important that Government agencies were also fully involved. Finally, he suggested that the development of CPA might also be influenced by the work on the shared priorities. 31. The Minister of State at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that he was encouraged by the proposals and emphasised the importance of joined up working across Government. 32. Cllr Dame Sally Powell said educational attainment relied on a great deal more than on putting money into schools. For example some of the work under the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and the provision of support to families to enable children to better schooling demonstrated the need to take a wider view. 33. Minister of State, Department of Culture, Media and Sport pointed out that the large proportion of his Department’s total budget was allocated to Non- Departmental Public Bodies and thus supported the need to engage them effectively in the process. 34. The Deputy Prime Minister concluded that a report back on the programme would be considered at July’s CLP meeting. ITEM 4 REPORT BACK FROM THE SOCIAL INCLUSION SUB-GROUP 35. The Minister of State for Social Exclusion highlighted the great deal of positive co-operation with the LGA on issues vital to raising levels of social inclusion and neighbourhood renewal. She added that the discussions and presentations at the Social Inclusion Sub-Group had been very helpful. For example, after the presentation from Sefton MBC on funding issues, the Regional Co-ordination Unit went on to use Sefton as one of their three area studies in the Review of Area Based Initiatives. Another meeting with the LGA would be arranged shortly to discuss the Green Paper on Children at Risk and an update on the progress of the review would also be available. She thanked colleagues from across Government and from the LGA for their attendance and contributions. 36. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that he would find it helpful to have a meeting of the Social Inclusion Sub-Group to share emerging strands of thinking on the Green Paper on Children at Risk. He was clear that it was important to maximise the contribution that could be made by all stakeholders, for example and the Voluntary and Community sector needed to be part of the picture. The needs of children at risk needed to be met at local level so it was important that stakeholders worked together. In terms of educational attainment family links were vital and resources needed to be marshalled accordingly. Lessons could be learnt from SureStart and it was necessary to explore further the ways in which other departments could work together. The Children’s Green Paper would be an important component in delivering the necessary change. 37. The Parliamentary under Secretary, Lord Chancellor’s Department agreed with the importance of including stakeholders and also pointed out the continuing work on child contact centres. 38. The Minister of State, Department of Health had found it helpful to attend the Sub-Group and endorsed the importance of bringing together the various stakeholders in order to meet both local and national needs and identifying initiatives that work. 39. The Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Adult learning and Skills identified the importance of Youth Service work and the ongoing need to sustain a joined up approach and cross agency communication. The Deputy Prime Minister said that he would be happy to have a further discussion in order to determine the approach for the future. ITEM 5- PROGRESS REPORT 40. The Deputy Prime Minister said that it might be useful to have a discussion or a further meeting about the general approach to the Settlement. 41. Councillor Dame Sally Powell asked when further details of Planning Delivery Grant announced by the Chancellor in his Pre Budget Report would be made available. Local authorities needed this to enable them to set their budgets. The Minister for Local Government said that he would press on the question to relevant colleagues. 42. Councillor Sir Jeremy Beecham asked what action may be taken following on from the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The Minister for EFRA agreed to take this forward with the Minister for Local Government. 43. Cllr Sir Jeremy Beecham asked if there were any additional pressures that Government could exert to make further progress on bus issues. The Minister for Sport and The Minister of the Department for Transport said that a further meeting on the Bus Partnership Forum was to be held shortly. 44. Councillor Harry Jones raised the issue of pensions for councillors in Wales saying that clarity was needed about whether proposed regulations would apply to Wales. The Minister for Local Government offered to take this up with the Wales Office. 45. Councillor Milner Whiteman raised concerns on the extent of access for local authorities to communications information as part of the first Home Office work on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). The matter would be brought to the attention of the Home Office along with LGA concerns on the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. This would need a separate meeting.
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