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Sep 29

Policy latest: must-read news for September

Convention, Keep it Local, Localism, Policy, Public sector cuts

We’re reviving our policy blog to keep you up to speed on developments in politics and policy. Any thoughts on what else should be included in this regular slot? Just let me know or comment below.

All change on the Labour front bench

Locality's policy round-up Sept 15

MPs briefly returned to Parliament for two weeks this September before heading off again to their party conferences– but what an eventful two weeks it was!

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Opposition is already shaking things up in the House, with his PMQs’ debut involving crowd-sourcing questions from the public and his determination for a less confrontational style of PMQs being mirrored by the Prime Minister.

With a new Labour Leader, came a new Shadow Cabinet. Among the appointments is Jon Trickett as the Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary. Trickett, who also has responsibility for political and constitutional reform, used his first appearance in his new role at Communities and Local Government oral questions to warn that whilst there is a clear political imperative for ‘proper devolution’ the devolution agenda should not be a smokescreen for more funding cuts to local authorities.

Also newly appointed is Anna Turley as Shadow Minister for the Voluntary and Community Sector and Civil Society. Turley has a background in the civil service and has worked as a special adviser in the Cabinet Office where she had responsibility for social exclusion and the charity and voluntary sector. She is also a former deputy director of the New Local Government Network and founder of the Co-Operative Councils Network. Speaking about her appointment, Turley spoke of the ‘triple whammy’ of challenges facing the sector – reduced grant funding, gaps in local service provision, and increased need for services.

 

Government’s vision for a ‘smarter state’ unveiled

Earlier this month, David Cameron delivered a speech in Leeds on his vision for a ‘smarter state.’

Gaffes about people from Yorkshire aside, this speech was an important indication of the government’s direction on devolution and public service delivery. Cameron outlined aspirations for putting services in the hands of local people, arguing that ‘it is a proven reality that money spent closer to people is often money spent wiser – so we can really deliver more for less.’

We welcome the focus on local delivery and local decision making. Our ‘Keep in Local’ work makes this very point – services are better run, and more efficient, if they are run at a local level. As community anchor organisations demonstrate across the country, smarter public services delivery requires organisations that really know and understand the communities and people they are supporting.

This has been one of our key messages to the new government in the run up to the Spending Review announcement in November. We have joined with other sector parties and responded to Cameron’s speech asking him to create “community” sized contracts and invest in community organisations to deliver his vision of a smarter state. To support the Keep it Local campaign sign up here.

We have also been shaping the devolution agenda – to ensure that the opportunities are also firmly in the hand of communities. For an update on the devolution agenda and Locality’s work see  Tony’s recent blog.

 

Spending cuts and welfare reform

In the summer Budget in July, the Chancellor outlined plans for £17 billion cuts to government spending, with £12 billion of this coming from changes to welfare.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have recently published an analysis of the impact these changes will have on peoples’ lives by 2020. It finds that lone parents and families with more than two children, as well as low income families (both working and non-working), will see their living standards stagnate or fall. It forecasts that the difference between income and the amount needed for basic living costs will grow sharply for those who are out of work.

That families are already struggling to maintain living standards whilst remaining financially secure is highlighted by a report from the Centre for Responsible Credit this month which found that the number of families with problem debt has increased by over a quarter since 2012. The report, Britain in the Red, commissioned by TUC and UNISON, also found that half of these households are required to pay out more than 40% of their gross income to their unsecured creditors.

On top of the £17 billion of cuts announced in July, a further £20 billion – to be found by 2019-20 – will be outlined in the Comprehensive Spending Review this autumn. To meet this target many government departments are looking to achieve a 40% budget reduction. The full review will not be published until November, but there is already speculation about what will be included. Headlines were made last week with news that free school meals for all children aged 4-7 might be scrapped, just over a year after they were introduced by former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

We will be working with members over the coming months to examine the impact which cuts are having on communities and individuals as part of a wider stream of policy and campaigning work on social justice. If you would like to be involved as we put together our initial discussion groups on this, please do get in touch – email me at

We are also running a session at Convention on austerity and social justice – join us there and book your place at Convention here.

 

Consultations, inquiries and reviews

 

  • The Work and Pensions Select Committee is carrying out an inquiry into local welfare safety nets. It is taking evidence on the implementation of discretionary welfare, housing and Council Tax assistance schemes delivered by local authorities. The Committee seeks to establish “the extent to which local discretion and variations in provision represent ‘localism in action’ or in fact create a ‘postcode lottery.’” You can input evidence to the Committee by writing to them before 30 October.

 

  • The House of Lords National Policy for the Built Environment Committee is inviting written evidence on the development and implementation of policy for the built environment in England. You can submit responses before the 6 October. Locality are responding to this inquiry, and if you are interested in this area of work please do get in touch.

 

 

  • London Funders, together with London Voluntary Service Council (LVSC) and Greater London Volunteering (GLV), are conducting a review into the future of civil society infrastructure in London. If you are based in London, you can take part in the review by attending one of their focus group sessions – or by writing to them. Locality will also be engaging with the review, so you can input any of your thoughts or experiences about infrastructure support in London through us.

 

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